What a night. After all the talk of coalitions, backroom deals and weeks of instability, David Cameron’s Conservatives won the UK general election with a relatively clear majority, and Cameron has claimed the scalps of the Labour, Liberal Democrat and UKIP leaders. The Lib Dems – the Tories’ coalition partners for the last five years – have been all but wiped out, as has the Labour party in Scotland.
Let’s not get too carried away. The center of gravity of British politics is some way to the left of America’s, particularly when it comes to social issues, and this is no right-wing revolution. But it is a victory for the politics of fiscal responsibility, aspiration and job creation. And it’s a resounding defeat for the old-school socialism and class warfare that Labour’s Ed Miliband wanted to inflict on the country.
Pundits have been struggling to explain how the Conservatives won – and why the pollsters didn’t see it coming. In answer to the “how,” we need look no further than James Carville’s exhortation to Bill Clinton that “it’s the economy stupid.” While issues such as healthcare, immigration and Europe figured in the campaign, Cameron kept bringing the discussion back to the economy, and it worked – a majority of voters simply weren’t prepared to put the nation’s recovery at risk.
But the polls didn’t pick this up – Labour and the Conservatives were deadlocked at 33 or 34 percent right up to election day, but the final vote share was 37 percent for the Conservatives and 31 percent for Labour. Some of the disparity can be explained by late-deciding voters breaking Conservative for reasons of economic self-interest; but many voters, perhaps hundreds of thousands, chose not to disclose their true intentions to pollsters, even in confidence.
This phenomenon is called “shy Tory syndrome,” and it’s not dissimilar to the “Bradley effect,” named for Tom Bradley, the African-American mayor of Los Angeles who lost the 1982 California governor’s race despite being ahead in the polls. In both cases, it’s claimed that conservative voters are reluctant to admit to their support for causes deemed unpopular by the liberals who dominate the opinion-forming cultural and media elites.
Ed West of Britain’s Catholic Herald writes about “shy Tory syndrome” here. However, what’s particularly baffling the pollsters is that in the 2010 general election the opinion polls were almost perfectly in line with the actual results. What happened to the “shy Tories” last time around?
The answer, I think, is simple, if troubling. By 2010 Tony Blair and New Labour had largely emasculated the hard left in Britain; New Labour’s own brand of social democracy was discredited, but the left had had the fight knocked out of them, and with the Tories having been out of office for 13 years they didn’t present much of a target for leftists to aim at.
But that year the Tories returned to power in coalition with the Lib Dems, and five years in opposition, as the Conservatives set about necessary but unpopular cuts to welfare and other public services, enabled the left to get its mojo back. Anger over the cuts, and Miliband’s class warfare rhetoric and anti-Conservative fearmongering, on the NHS and welfare in particular, helped to make the left’s “Tory scum” brand of campaigning, with Conservative candidates routinely subjected to personal abuse, mainstream again.
So it’s hardly surprising that many Conservative supporters decided to get back in the closet this time around – and it’s no coincidence that the pollsters got things similarly wrong in 1992, when the Tories were also the incumbents and were being savagely attacked by the left.
We’ve only had results from a couple of dozen seats and there’s still a long way to go, but a few things are becoming apparent. The first is that the exit poll that put the Tories just short of an overall majority is being borne out so far. In fact the Tories appear to be performing slightly better than the exit poll suggested, and Labour slightly worse.
A leading pollster has just said we should “take seriously the possibility” that the Conservatives could win an overall majority. It looks as if either the opinion polls got something badly wrong, or pretty much every undecided voter broke for the Tories. You can follow that action on the BBC here.
The Conservatives have already held on to a couple of seats that were high on Labour’s target list. In London, where Labour expected to make big gains from the Tories, one senior Labour figure held his seat, but with the same share of the vote as in 2010. Meanwhile a Conservative minister held her seat with an increased majority. It doesn’t look like Labour will be making a breakthrough in the capital, or anywhere else.
Another pattern that’s emerging is the collapse of the Liberal Democrats, who have been in coalition with the Conservatives since 2010, with much of its support going to UKIP. The Lib Dems have overperformed in recent elections, and being in government, albeit as the junior partner, has done nothing to temper their insufferable smugness. But it’s now clear that much of their support was simply a protest vote against Labour and the Conservatives, and that protest vote has switched to UKIP. Nick Clegg may not survive as leader.
As for UKIP, it seems that in Tory marginal seats, UKIP supporters who defected from the Conservatives have returned to the Tories, spooked by the prospect of a left-and-lefter coalition between Labour and the Scottish Nationalists (SNP). Meanwhile ex-Labour voters who switched to UKIP have stuck with UKIP, cutting into the Labour vote in its northern heartlands. It’s the dream scenario for the Conservatives — UKIP doing more damage to Labour than to them.
In Scotland, the Scottish National Party is on course to virtually wipe out Labour, as predicted. With Scotland led by the far-left SNP but the Tories set to remain in power in the UK as a whole, there will be enormous pressure for a new referendum on Scottish independence which Cameron will have to address, perhaps with some kind of proposal for a federalized UK.
On the subject of referendums, we’ll also be getting one on Britain’s membership in the European Union if Cameron does indeed continue as prime minister, whether it’s with a majority or at the head of another coalition.
As for Labour leader Ed Miliband, it looks, almost unbelievably, as if he’ll do worse than Gordon Brown, who became the least popular prime minister in modern British history before losing the 2010 election. Miliband, too, looks unlikely to survive as his party’s leader, and he may well soon be spending more time with his kitchens.
The exit poll for the UK General Election has just been released, and while these things have to be taken with a pinch of salt, the indications are good for David Cameron’s Conservative Party. The poll puts the Tories at 316 seats, just short of an overall majority. Labour is predicted to win 239 seats, well short of expectations.
If the poll is accurate it would be the biggest election upset in Britain in decades, if not quite on the scale of “Dewey Defeats Truman.” Even if we allow for a considerable margin of error, it suggests the Conservatives have done better than expected and will have a good chance of being able to put together a governing coalition with one or more of the Liberal Democrats, Nigel Farage’s UKIP and the Northern Ireland Unionist parties.
From a conservative point of view this poll is almost too good to check, and possibly too good to be true; my gut feeling is that it won’t be quite this good for Cameron. And because it’s so far out of line with expectations, it’s probably not worth spending too much time speculating on what it means for now — the first results will be announced within the next couple of hours, and we’ll soon get an idea as to whether the exit poll is on the right track.
My reservations about Cameron on Europe and immigration aside, the alternative is too dreadful to contemplate, so I’m quietly excited. Watch this space.
So the United Kingdom is still united, and in the end it wasn’t that close. The people of Scotland rejected independence early this morning, with the No campaign prevailing by a relatively comfortable 55% to 45%. The margin of victory was around half the lead the No vote had enjoyed in the early stages of the campaign, but it was far more decisive than recent polls, one of which put the Yes camp narrowly ahead, had suggested.
Britain’s Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron said the independence debate had been “settled for a generation.” He added: “So there can be no disputes, no re-runs; we have heard the will of the Scottish people.”
President Obama, who angered Yes campaigners by expressing his hope that Scots would stay with the UK, tweeted that he “welcomed” the result.
"We welcome the result of yesterday’s referendum on Scottish independence." —President Obama pic.twitter.com/5qJyAPGP6Q
— The White House (@WhiteHouse) September 19, 2014
A vote for independence would have been cataclysmic for British politics; however, the reverberations from the No vote will still be far-reaching, and while supporters of both sides were celebrating or drowning their sorrows into the wee small hours, Cameron, along with politicians from all parties on both sides of the border, woke up this morning with a different kind of hangover — they must now turn their attention to dealing with the complex political and constitutional issues thrown up by the result.
With polls tightening in the run-up to the referendum, Cameron, along with other figures in the No campaign, including Scot and former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown, made increasingly generous promises about the extra powers that would be devolved to the existing Scottish Parliament if Scots rejected independence. These include full control over the setting of income tax and other tax rates, and more powers over welfare spending.
Conservative MPs, with backing from their Liberal Democrat coalition partners and some in the Labour Party, are now demanding that if Scotland is effectively granted “home rule” then similar powers must also be devolved to England, Wales and Northern Ireland, and Cameron appeared to accede to those demands when he spoke this morning.
The result could be something like a federalized United Kingdom, and devolving powers to England would finally bring about a resolution of the so-called “West Lothian question“ – the anomaly whereby Scottish MPs sitting at Westminster can vote on taxation and other matters affecting England, but English MPs have no say on matters devolved to the Scottish Parliament.
There are no plans for a separate English Parliament, but it’s likely that proposals will be put forward to enable “English only” parliamentary sessions, with English MPs legislating on matters relating only to England, and Scots MPs excluded. That would in all probability mean Ed Miliband’s Labour Party would be outvoted by the Tories on English matters – even if Labour won an overall majority in next year’s general election – because of Labour’s reliance on large numbers of Scottish MPs.
The referendum campaign highlighted the growing disconnect between the UK’s London-based political establishment and the rest of the country. And if Cameron does make good on his promise of greater devolution for England it would be bad news for Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party, which has portrayed itself as the party of localism and regionalism, and which has criticized Cameron for promising so much to Scots at the apparent expense of the rest of the UK.
Imagine that in some Middle Eastern or African country 1,400 girls, some as young as 11, are abducted, gang-raped, beaten, threatened with death and trafficked by a Muslim gang. Some are doused with petrol, and threatened with being burned to death if they try to escape or tell anyone about their ordeal. They have been targeted because they are members of a different ethnic or religious group.
You don’t have to imagine the outcry that would ensue, because something similar to what I describe above (with the possible exception of the petrol dousing) happened only recently, when hundreds of schoolgirls were kidnapped by the Islamist Boko Haram group in Nigeria. The international outrage was unanimous, and when the Nigerian authorities appealed for help the response was swift, with President Obama sending troops and drones to hunt for the girls; meanwhile his wife and various celebrities lent their support to a facile and self-indulgent social media campaign to “Bring Back Our Girls.”
In the last few days we’ve learned that something of only a slightly lesser order of magnitude happened not in Africa but in Rotherham, a former steel and mill town in the north of England. The abuse continued for 16 years, and the perpetrators were not some elusive and heavily armed terrorist group who threatened to kill their victims at the first sign of a rescue attempt, but ordinary members of the local Muslim community.
Ending the girls’ ordeal should have been a relatively simple and risk-free matter. But not only did the authorities fail to stop the abuse and prosecute the offenders, they didn’t even try. They ignored pleas for help from the young victims and their families, and covered up their failure to act; and for good measure they arrested some of the victims and their families when they sought help.
Other than the starkly different locations and the fact that Boko Haram is a recognized terrorist group, the notable difference between the two episodes is that the Nigerian schoolgirls were black, and the Rotherham abuse victims were white.
The horrific details of the Rotherham “grooming” scandal were laid out in a report published by Professor Alexis Jay, a former senior social worker. Professor Jay wrote: “It is hard to describe the appalling nature of the abuse that child victims suffered. They were raped by multiple perpetrators, trafficked to other towns and cities in the north of England, abducted, beaten, and intimidated.”
Just five men have been jailed for abusing girls in Rotherham; police are currently dealing with 32 investigations into child sexual exploitation in the town.
Rotherham isn’t the UK’s first “grooming” scandal. I wrote about the first major instance to come to light, in Rochdale, around 30 miles from Rotherham, in 2012, and there have been several other cases, predominantly in deprived areas of northern towns where working class whites and immigrants live in close proximity. Rotherham is the most extensive case to emerge, but it’s thought the problem is even more widespread, with perhaps thousands more girls being abused by predominantly Muslim men of Pakistani extraction across Britain.
The main elements are the same in every case. The victims are vulnerable young white girls from poor backgrounds, and their assailants target them because they view them as worthless and immoral, and, in the words of former Labour Home Secretary Jack Straw, “easy meat“ (Straw was vilified by many on the left for speaking out about the extent of “grooming”).
In every case the same explanation for official inaction is offered: no one wanted to look too closely into complaints against “Asian” men because they were afraid of being accused of racism, and because they were concerned about the effect of arrests and prosecutions on “community cohesion.” The fact that most media reports still describe the offenders as “Asian” rather than as Pakistani Muslims is itself a disgraceful evasion, and one which the north of England’s Chinese, Hindu and Sikh communities no doubt resent.
The report, published by Professor Jay, a former senior social worker, says staff at Rotherham Council “described their nervousness about identifying the ethnic origins of perpetrators for fear of being thought racist; others remembered clear direction from their managers not to do so.”
This isn’t just a problem with political correctness or multiculturalism. It’s a failure of every component of the modern bureaucratic state, and every element of modern liberalism, from an education system that fails many poor youngsters and a welfare state that traps its dependents in poverty (both of which systems the current Conservative-led government are slowly reforming), to inertia and unaccountability of public sector bureaucracies, and the dynastic and often corrupt culture of the “Old Labour” political machines that dominate the UK’s northern cities.
One of the many disturbing aspects of the Rotherham scandal is that virtually no one has been held to account for the multiple failings that allowed the abuse to continue for so long. Many of those responsible have simply disappeared into the public sector morass, with some moving to other councils and some still involved in child “protection,” where they will continue to pull down their six-figure salaries before retiring on six-figure pensions.
The poster boy for these shameless public servants is Shaun Wright, a former Labour councillor who was responsible for children’s services in Rotherham between 2005 and 2010, when hundreds of children were being abused. He resigned from the council, only to continue failing the victims in his new post as police and crime commissioner. Wright has so far refused to resign from that position, insisting that he is “part of the solution.”
*Editor’s Note: This article was written prior to Cameron’s press conference Friday morning.
UKIP – the insurgent right-of-center party that has been shaking up the British political scene for the past couple of years, and which won elections for the European Parliament earlier this year, pulled off another coup today when it announced the first defection to its ranks from Prime Minister David Cameron’s governing Conservative Party.
Douglas Carswell, MP for the seat of Clacton in south-east England, said he was leaving the Tories because Cameron was not serious about plans to reform the European Union ahead of an in/out referendum, due to be held in 2017 if the party wins an overall majority in next year’s General Election – it’s currently in a coalition with the center-left Liberal Democrats.
Carswell will now contest a special election for his seat – and if, as expected, he wins he will become UKIP’s first MP in Westminster. His defection is a triumph for UKIP and its leader Nigel Farage, and a major blow to Cameron, who had hoped to patch up splits in his party over Europe in the run-up to the 2015 election.
Announcing his defection, Carswell told a press conference: “The problem is that many of those at the top of the Conservative Party are simply not our side. They aren’t serious about the change that Britain so desperately needs.”
UKIP has pledged to take Britain out of the EU, a policy that increasing numbers of voters support. Cameron has pledged to negotiate with the EU to secure major reforms ahead of the 2017 referendum, but Carswell said he believed the party leadership was not being sincere. He said he had been told by senior advisers to the Prime Minister that voters would be offered “just enough to persuade enough of them to stay in”.
What is particularly damaging for Cameron is that Carswell is not some fringe figure or publicity-seeking opportunist whose defection the Conservatives can easily dismiss. He’s highly principled, and a serious thinker who’s been a leading voice for reform, both in his party and the UK political system in general.
The timing of Carswell’s announcement was particularly unfortunate for Prime Minister Cameron, coinciding as it did with the release of official figures showing net migration to Britain has risen to 250,000 in the past year, despite Cameron’s pledge to reduce the level to “tens of thousands.” The inability of Britain to control immigration from EU countries has been a hugely successful campaigning issue for UKIP.
Friday’s papers are filled with speculation about which other Tories might follow Carswell to UKIP, with claims that as many as eight MPs are in talks with Farage’s party. But while Farage might be celebrating, the real winner from Carswell’s defection may be the left-wing Labour party, which despite its current modest showing in the polls could win next year’s election if UKIP and the Tories split the center-right vote in enough ‘swing’ seats. The pro-Europe Labour party has refused to offer voters a referendum on the European Union, and for all his smiles today Farage must fear that the chances of Britain escaping the EU’s clutches any time soon just got a little slimmer.
On his Fox News show on Saturday night, Geraldo Rivera conducted a “two-way” with John Huddy, one of the network’s reporters in Gaza. During their exchange, Huddy matter-of-factly stated that 40 percent of those killed in Gaza as a result of Israel’s Operation Protective Edge were children. He didn’t cite a source, and he didn’t say “Hamas claims….” He just rattled off the number as if it were the Dow Jones closing figure – final and indisputable. (The clip is here – click on the 10:33pm segment if it doesn’t play straight off.) Having failed to question or verify the 40 percent claim, Rivera then repeated it in an exchange with Danny Danon, who resigned as Israel’s deputy defense minister last week after opposing a proposed ceasefire with Hamas.
Rivera is far from most conservatives’ favorite Fox presenter, and he can be hard to take seriously as he veers between Kent Brockman-esque pomposity and Ron Burgundy-esque histrionics. However, he’s normally solidly pro-Israel, so it was troubling that he didn’t challenge Huddy’s 40 percent figure, which seems implausibly high – even Gaza’s notoriously exaggeration-prone, Hamas-controlled Health Ministry puts the figure at around 25 percent. Fox, along with the rest of the media, has a duty to ensure that casualty figures are reliably sourced and as accurate as possible, given the key role that civilian deaths, and those of children in particular, play in shaping attitudes towards any conflict between Israel and the Palestinians.
No-one knows exactly how many Gazans have been killed, nor how many of the dead are civilians, nor how many of those civilians are children. As well as ensuring that health officials stick to the party line, Hamas also keeps a tight grip on information coming out of the territory from other sources. The New York Times, for one, appears to be tailoring its coverage to suit the demands of the terror group. There are suspicions that the Times is playing ball with Hamas in order to be allowed to continue operating in Gaza – not that it would need much encouragement, given the Times‘s legendary anti-Israel bias, but the one-sidedness of its reporting this time is particularly egregious.
Israel is unable to produce its own estimates of casualties inside Gaza. It only releases its own casualty figures for operations like the one currently underway after they’ve been concluded, and, as this Times of Israel Report details, it concedes that it can do little to counter the likely exaggerated figures from Hamas.
Of course, one dead civilian, let alone a child, is one too many. But innocent people will inevitably be killed and injured when Hamas launches its rockets from densely populated residential areas, and stores them in UN-run schools. And in conflicts between Israel and the Palestinians, as in no other conflict anywhere in the world, the body count is the most important factor in the propaganda war, with Israel’s opponents pointing to the disproportionality in dead and injured as proof in itself that Israel is in the wrong.
Unfortunately, the same media that unquestioningly broadcasts Hamas’s civilian-heavy death tolls seems far less interested in examining why so many civilians are dying. On Sunday, the BBC aired a typically harrowing report from inside a Gaza hospital. While the reporter was talking to medics, there was a deafening roar as a salvo of Hamas rockets passed over the hospital, clearly launched from close by. To his credit, the clearly startled reporter said something to the effect of “but that doesn’t help the situation.”
Nigel Farage, leader of the UK Independence Party, or UKIP, has rarely been photographed without a pint of beer in his hand over the last few years as he’s caroused his way around Britain, taunting its political establishment. And he had good reason to raise a glass over the weekend as UKIP won elections to the European Parliament, becoming the first party other than Labour or the Conservatives to win a UK national election for more than 100 years.
Long dismissed by mainstream politicians and commentators as oddballs and extremists – Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron famously dismissed them as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” – Farage’s insurgents have become increasingly hard to ignore. UKIP wants an end to mass immigration to the UK, and Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union – the two issues are inextricably linked, as EU rules mean Britain is unable to control immigration from other member countries.
The result didn’t come as a big surprise – several polls had put UKIP narrowly ahead of Labour in recent weeks, and in the event UKIP took 27.5 percent of the vote, with Labour second at 25.4 percent and the Tories third at 24 percent. But it’s the most significant development in British politics in decades; Farage hailed the result as “an earthquake,” and predicted that his party would win seats in next year’s general election.
The Conservatives did better than expected, suggesting that some Tory defectors to UKIP are being lured back by the steadily recovering UK economy. But another strong showing by UKIP in 2015 would likely condemn Cameron and his party to defeat at the hands of Labour, and some Tory MPs have renewed calls for an electoral pact with UKIP to avert disaster. Farage, meanwhile, insists the Tories can’t win the election if Cameron remains in charge.
Cameron has been eager to persuade disaffected Tories that he feels their pain. Last week he said he shared the frustration of voters over his party’s inability to control immigration, and arriving in Brussels this week for a meeting with other European leaders to discuss the election results, which saw gains for populist parties from both the left and right across the continent, he said the EU had become “too big, too bossy, too interfering”.
The results across Europe will strengthen Cameron’s hand as he seeks to make the case for EU reform, and for the return of key powers to national governments, ahead of the in/out referendum on EU membership that he’s pledged to hold if the Conservatives secure an overall majority in 2015. Labour, and the Liberal Democrats – who are the Tories’ partners in Britain’s coalition government – have refused to hold a referendum on Europe.
While trying not to appear dismissive of voters’ concerns, the established parties are clinging to the hope that UKIP remains a protest party, and that many of those who voted for Farage will desert him when the “real” election comes along. While UKIP dismisses those claims, there’s undeniably a protest element to UKIP’s support – when general election voting intentions are polled, UKIP’s support falls to around half the level it achieved in the Euro elections. However, even that would be enough for UKIP to have a major influence on who forms the next government.
Jimmy Carter Says U.S. Should Grant Visa to Iranian UN Envoy Who Was Embassy Hostage Taker: “They Were College Students”
There has been outrage in the U.S. over Iran’s bid to have one of the hostage takers who stormed the American Embassy in Tehran serve as its ambassador to the UN in New York.
Twenty-nine Republican senators have written to President Obama urging him to deny a visa to Hamid Aboutalebi, who was a member of a Muslim student group that took over the Embassy in 1979 and held 52 Americans hostage for 444 days. The State Department says it’s “troubled” by the move, but has not said if it will refuse Aboutalebi a visa.
Now Aboutalebi has found support in the
unlikely entirely predictable figure of former President turned globe-trotting America-basher Jimmy Carter. This evening he was interviewed on the BBC’s Newsnight programme in the UK, and asked by presenter Kirsty Wark if the U.S. should give Aboutalebi a visa, here’s what he said:
Well I hope so. I see no reason to prevent this person from serving as the official representative of Iran. You have to remember that those people who took my hostages back in 1979 were college students, they were young people and I don’t think they should be held culpable for that incident now, 35 years later.
“My hostages,” as Carter calls them, were held captive and terrorized for almost 15 months. They were subjected to beatings, solitary confinement and mock executions. And before their eventual release, eight American servicemen died in a failed mission to rescue them.
But hey, the hostage takers were just college students! At the time, Carter said the embassy staff were ”victims of terrorism and anarchy”, but thanks to the wisdom that comes with old age he can now see that the whole thing was basically just student high-jinks; Islamic Fundamentalists Gone Wild.
While Aboutalebi would certainly be in good company among the thugs, dictators and crooks who regularly make a mockery of the UN, he should never be allowed on American soil. Former Tehran hostage Barry Rosen said his presence would be “like spitting on us”.
Carter also took his usual swipes at U.S. foreign policy, saying America’s involvement in numerous conflicts “has given our country a bad reputation as far as peace and human rights is concerned”. And he said that if he were President now he’d consider pardoning Edward Snowden, saying the punishment he’s received “far outweighs” the crimes he’s committed.
With former presidents like this, who needs enemies?
The reputation of the BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation), the UK’s state broadcaster, for liberal bias is such that U.S. conservatives are as familiar with its anti-Republican, anti-Israel, pro-big government, multicultralist agenda, and its tendency to subject Christianity to skepticism and ridicule while giving Islam the benefit of the doubt, as they are with Monty Python, The Benny Hill Show and its other successful transatlantic exports.
And while American conservatives rightly complain about the liberal bias in their own country’s media, at least they’re not forced to pay for it (aside from their share of the relatively meagre federal subsidy for PBS and NPR). Their British counterparts are not so fortunate.
The BBC is funded by the TV licence fee, a £145.50 ($240) compulsory tax on households that own a television – so even if you’ve never watched a BBC program in your life, if you have a TV set you have to pay. And if you don’t like the relentless stream of pro-immigration, pro-European Union propaganda on its news programs, or the non-stop jokes at the expense of (Republican) U.S. politicians on its comedy shows, or the thrillers in which the bad guys turn out to be Mossad agents or anti-abortion fanatics, you have to pay (if you think I’m exaggerating about the bias in entertainment shows, an upcoming Doctor Who episode will feature an “intergalactic banker” as a villain).
Non-payment of the licence fee is currently a criminal offence. Offenders can be hauled into court, and ultimately jailed. Such compulsion sits uneasily with the BBC’s image, carefully cultivated by its supporters in the wider liberal establishment, as the country’s “favorite broadcaster” and a “much loved” national institution (similarly emotive language is used to attack critics of the beleaguered National Health Service).
As a more practical matter, it’s also putting a strain on Britain’s courts; around one in ten criminal cases are prosecutions for licence fee evasion. In 2012, 190,000 people were prosecuted for non-payment, and 165,000 were convicted and given a criminal record – two-thirds of them women, and many of them low-income single parents and the elderly (you don’t qualify for a free licence until you’re 75). Fifty-one were jailed.
The current licence fee agreement is up for renewal in 2017, and ahead of negotiations the government has floated a proposal, which has attracted cross-party support, to decriminalise licence fee evasion; non-payment would instead be treated as civil offence, and offenders would no longer face the threat of imprisonment.
The BBC has responded by warning that if the proposals are implemented non-payment will increase, and the cost of the licence fee for those who do pay will rise. Furthermore, one of its directors (a former Labour government minister, in case you were still in any doubt about the left-wing bias) has warned that the BBC would be forced to axe some channels – and first for the chop would be those dedicated to children’s programming.
Think of the children! If the BBC’s threat has a familiar ring to it, it’s because liberals employed very similar scare tactics during the 2012 presidential election campaign, claiming that Republicans wanted to kill off Big Bird and Sesame Street after Mitt Romney said he’d end the federal subsidy for PBS.
But let that sink in for a moment: Britain’s state broadcaster is threatening to take children’s shows off the air if members of the public are no longer jailed for refusing to fund it. And this from an organization that, back in the days when it actually did command the respect and affection of a majority of the British public, was nicknamed “Auntie” in recognition of the benevolent role it was felt to play in the life of the nation – these days it’s more of a wicked stepmother.
Even given the emotive nature of the abortion debate, some stories on the subject have a special capacity to shock. The case of Kermit Gosnell, who snipped the necks of viable babies in his Philadelphia charnel house, is one recent example, and now comes news from the UK that, while less overtly gruesome, is an equally chilling reminder of the everyday horrors perpetrated in the name of a woman’s “right to choose.”
It’s emerged that several National Health Service (NHS) trusts in the UK have been routinely burning the bodies of aborted babies as “clinical waste,” and that in at least two cases the remains were used to heat hospitals – an example of ruthless efficiency if ever there was one. This is what happens when the progressive left’s culture of death meets the heartless bureaucracy of socialized healthcare.
An investigation for Channel 4′s Dispatches program, which airs in the UK this evening, found that the remains of more than 15,000 aborted and miscarried babies have been incinerated in the last two years alone. At two hospitals the remains were burned in facilities that generated power to heat hospital buildings.
The Telegraph reports:
One of the country’s leading hospitals, Addenbrooke’s in Cambridge, incinerated 797 babies below 13 weeks gestation at their own ‘waste to energy’ plant. The mothers were told the remains had been ‘cremated.’ Another ‘waste to energy’ facility at Ipswich Hospital, operated by a private contractor, incinerated 1,101 fetal remains between 2011 and 2013.
The program also found that, in the case of miscarriages, parents weren’t consulted over what should happen to the remains of their child. Britain’s Department of Health has acted swiftly to ban the incineration of remains, with health minister Dr. Dan Poulter calling it “totally unacceptable.”
The latest horror story is a reminder that, even as the pro-life movement in the U.S. has been eking out victories, with several states imposing tighter restrictions on abortion, in Britain pro-life campaigners have made little headway in recent years. The general public remains largely ambivalent on the issue, while the powerful medical and legal establishments appear thoroughly committed to the pro-abortion cause.
In 2012, 97 percent of the 185,000 abortions carried out in the UK were on the grounds of risk to the mother’s health, and 99.94 of those involved a purported risk to the mother’s mental health. Pro-life campaigners claim the “mental health” provision is routinely abused, and effectively amounts to abortion on demand. Under the UK’s 1967 Abortion Act, no termination is supposed to go ahead unless two doctors have judged it to be in the woman’s best interests; however the rules have been relaxed to the point where, in around half of cases, the woman doesn’t have to be seen by a doctor at all – a nurse can carry out the consultation, with doctors merely signing the paperwork.
And last year, prosecutors decided not to pursue criminal charges against doctors accused of arranging “sex selection” abortions, ruling that it would “not be in the public interest.” That decision was celebrated by Britain’s abortion industry, with the head of one of the country’s biggest abortion charities declaring open season on sex-selection abortions, and likening them to abortions carried out following rape.
(Incidentally, I’ve always found the position of those pro-choice people who do oppose sex selection abortions odd – they apparently think it’s wrong to abort a baby that the parents don’t want because it’s a girl, but fine to abort a baby because they just don’t want it.)
There are signs tonight that divisions are emerging between the U.S. and Europe over how to respond to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine’s Crimea region. While the Obama administration has threatened a strong response, including punitive economic measures, European nations – which depend on Russia for energy supplies, trade and investment – appear to be backing away from financial sanctions.
President Obama said today the White House was “examining a whole series of steps – economic, diplomatic – that will isolate Russia and will have a negative impact on Russia’s economy and status in the world”. However, European foreign ministers, meeting in Brussels, resisted calls for sanctions. European leaders have also opposed U.S. calls to expel Russia from the G8 group of leading economies.
Several European countries are dependent on Russia for much of their energy, with Germany importing around 40 per cent of its oil and natural gas from Russia, and the European Union accounting for around three-quarters of Russia’s energy exports. European nations have lucrative trade deals with Russia too – France, for example, is building assault ships for its armed forces.
Britain, meanwhile, although not reliant on Russian energy, has extensive economic ties. Rising property prices are one of the cornerstones of the UK’s still tenuous economic recovery, and prices in London are rising at more than twice the rate of the national average. Russia’s oligarchs have invested heavily in property in the capital – they bought 8.5% of all London properties worth more than £2m ($3.3m) between March 2012 and March 2013, more than nationals of any other country. And each year hundred of millions of dollars of Russian money – much of it the ill-gotten gains of Vladimir Putin’s cronies – pass through the City of London’s banks and other financial institutions.
Britain’s opposition to sanctions was made embarrassingly public today when a secret government document was photographed as an official was carrying it into 10 Downing Street, the residence of Prime Minister David Cameron. The document said Britain should “not support, for now, trade sanctions … or close London’s financial centre to Russians”.
Russia’s economy is certainly vulnerable – $55bn was wiped off the value of Russian stocks today, while the rouble fell to all-time lows against the dollar and the euro. However, the fear is that any sanctions could be as harmful to Europe as to Russia, and European resistance could make it harder for the U.S. to impose harsh penalties. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid said today that “[Europe’s] interests are really paramount if we are going to do sanctions of some kind. We have to have them on board with us”.
Speaking to the BBC this evening, Senator John McCain said Europe’s leaders would be “ignoring the lessons of history” if they decided that the cost of imposing severe sanctions of Russia were too high. But with the West divided on how to act, and more Russian troops pouring into Crimea every hour, it’s hard to see what can stop Putin annexing the peninsula, and securing a victory that would be equally humiliating for Europe and the U.S.
Most Americans will remember the UK riots of 2011, but few will probably recall the name of Mark Duggan. Duggan was the petty thug and aspiring gangster whose fatal shooting by police led to riots which spread from London to cities across the country. Five people died, and the cost of the damage has been estimated at $330 million.
Duggan was shot after a taxi he was travelling in was stopped by police, who had received intelligence that he was armed, and today an inquest jury found that he had been lawfully killed. A gun was found a few yards from the scene of the shooting, and although the jury found that Duggan did not have a gun in his hand when he was shot, they accepted that the police marksman who shot him had a “reasonable and honest belief” that he was armed.
Duggan’s family and friends, and the ubiquitous “leaders” of the black community in Tottenham, where Duggan lived, reacted with fury to the verdict, hurling abuse at the jury, and drowning out a police spokesman outside the court with cries of “murderers” and “no justice, no peace.” Police are tonight braced for possible trouble on the streets of Tottenham, although the cold and wet weather will keep people of the streets — had the jury’s verdict been delivered on a hot summer’s day things would likely have been very different.
The BBC has, of course, led the hand-wringing over the verdict, fretting about the damage the case has done to “community relations”; as if relations between the police and violent criminals — and those who either actively support them, or who sympathize with them, protect them and make excuses for them — would ordinarily be cordial. The vast majority of the law-abiding people in Tottenham and other crime-infested areas of London are quietly pleased every time a Mark Duggan is taken off the streets, even if they would rather such men were jailed than killed.
Speaking after the verdict, a senior policeman pointed out that criminals have shot dead more than 50 people on London’s streets in the last three-and-a-half years. Most of those 50 victims were black, and were killed by other blacks, but they have received less coverage between them than has Duggan from the BBC and other media outlets.
The reaction to the case shows how tactics that were once the preserve of U.S. race-baiters like Al Sharpton and Jesse Jackson have found their way to Britain; the veteran black Labour MP Dianne Abbott is a third-rate rabble-rouser by American standards, but she openly criticized the inquest jury, calling their decision “baffling.” Black activists have also been rehashing their complaints about young black men being disproportionately targeted in police stop and search operations, continuing to ignore the fact that young black men are disproportionately both the perpetrators and victims of shootings and other violent crime, and are responsible for a majority of violent crime in the capital overall.
The prospects for London’s black youth remain bleak so long as those who profess to have their best interests at heart continue to exhibit more anger over the death of one black criminal at the hands of the police than the death of dozens of black men at the hands of other black men. In the meantime, Londoners will be hoping it doesn’t stop raining.
British Prime Minister David Cameron has announced that he intends to introduce a tax break for married couples, fulfilling a long-standing promise to recognize marriage in the UK’s tax system (unlike in the U.S., where a married couple can pool their income and deductions, Britain currently treats individuals largely separately for tax purposes). The measure, which is aimed at low- and middle-income earners, would leave a typical couple around $330 a year better off.
It’s not a huge amount of money — and some Conservative politicians, religious leaders and pro-marriage groups say it’s too little to make a difference. However the announcement is as much a statement of Cameron’s personal support for marriage as it is about the money, and is designed to send a message that the state values the institution (Cameron has defended his support for gay marriage in part by claiming it will strengthen marriage as a whole). Along with reforms to education and the welfare system, the promotion of marriage is part of the government’s effort to address the problem of family breakdown and its attendant social problems, which are reckoned to cost the UK some $75 billion a year.
Reaction to the announcement from the left has been predictably hostile. Labor politicians have condemned the plan as “insulting” to single parents (a designated victim group) and couples who choose not to marry. Harriet Harman, the party’s senior token women and a dour, knee-jerk feminist, called it “stigmatizing and moralizing” and “Victorian finger-wagging.” The Tories’ coalition partners, the center-left Liberal Democrats, have been equally critical, with party leader Nick Clegg accusing Cameron of trying to “turn back the clock to the 1950s.”
Why so much outrage over such a modest gesture? The tax system has long discriminated against married couples, particularly if one parent stays at home to raise children, and in favor of couples who separate. Meanwhile, more generous tax breaks have long been the norm in countries including France and Germany, where marriage rates are higher.
No one is suggesting that either single parents or cohabiting couples can’t make good parents, or that every marriage is successful. However, studies have repeatedly shown that married couples are more likely to stay together than cohabiting ones; and that marriage provides the most favorable conditions for raising children who will do well at school and have better job prospects, and avoid alcoholism, drug addiction and other problems. Stable marriages and strong families are also powerful engines for lifting people out of poverty and increasing social mobility.
The NSA/PRISM scandal has spread to the UK, with the news that American intelligence officials shared telephone and internet data harvested by wiretapping programs with their counterparts at GCHQ (Government Communications Headquarters). According to The Guardian, GCHQ has had access to PRISM data since at least June 2010, and generated 197 intelligence reports from it last year.
Those reports would normally be passed to MI5 and MI6, Britain’s domestic and foreign intelligence services.
The Obama administration has insisted that the PRISM program has not targeted U.S. citizens. However, if foreign citizens of interest were communicating with U.S. citizens, then those Americans would presumably be known to the NSA. Many Americans are skeptical that either their government or the phone and internet companies involved are telling the truth, and with so many questions remaining unanswered, it’s possible that information on American citizens may have been shared with British officials and politicians.
GCHQ has refused to confirm any involvement with the PRISM program, and we don’t, of course, know who in the UK security services would have seen such information. We do, however, know which politicians might have had access to it.
These would include the Home Secretary Theresa May, who is the minister responsible for national security and policing. Also, members of the Parliamentary Intelligence and Security Committee, which has oversight over GCHQ and other branches of the security services.
That committee is chaired by the Conservative MP Malcolm Rifkind, a former foreign secretary and defense minister. The other members are Tory MPs Julian Lewis and Mark Field; Labour MPs George Howarth, Hazel Blears and Paul Goggins; Liberal Democrat MP Menzies Campbell; and two members of the House of Lords: the Conservative peer Lord Lothian, and the unaffiliated peer Lord Butler, a former top civil servant.
It seems clear, meanwhile, that both the NSA and GCHQ have been viewing PRISM data relating to British citizens. If so, the NSA’s involvement is diplomatically embarrassing both for the Obama administration and the British government. GCHQ would appear to have circumvented the usual legal process required for the UK security services to obtain personal information on British citizens from internet and telephone companies.
Demanding that the British government hold an inquiry, Keith Vaz — the Labour chairman of the Commons Home Affairs Committee — said:
I am astonished by these revelations, which could involve the data of thousands of Britons. The most chilling aspect is that ordinary American citizens and potentially British citizens too were apparently unaware that their phone and online interactions could be watched.
If — as Obama and his National Security officials insist — Americans have nothing to be alarmed about, then presumably the involvement of the British security services shouldn’t be an issue either. But the president is a long way from convincing Americans that that is the case.
What Does a Muslim Extremist Have To Do To Get Arrested in Britain These Days? Send an Offensive Tweet?
One of the two men who murdered a British soldier in London on Wednesday was arrested in Kenya in 2010 on suspicion of trying to join Islamist militants fighting in Somalia, it emerged tonight. Michael Adebolajo was thought to have been trying to link up with the militant group al-Shabab. He received ‘consular assistance’ from the UK foreign office before being deported.
It has already been revealed that both of the men who killed Drummer Lee Rigby close to his barracks in Woolwich were known to the security services, and the latest reports will raise new questions about why Adebolajo was not more closely monitored by the police and MI5, and whether he could have been prosecuted for terrorist activity.
There have also been claims that Adebolajo was approached by the British security services, and that they attempted to recruit him as an informant. Adebolajo and Michael Adebowale remain under police guard in hospital after being shot by police following Drummer Rigby’s murder, and four other men have been arrested in connection with the attack.
Meanwhile, on the day that Drummer Rigby’s family visited the scene of his murder, Prime Minister David Cameron was criticized for flying to Spain for a holiday with his family while so many questions about the attack remain unanswered.
Also today, the British Home Secretary said a task force would be set up to determine if new laws were needed to counter the radicalization of young Muslim men in mosques and universities, amid concerns that little progress has been made in combating extremism since the London bus and subway bombings in 2005.
Any new measures are sure to be opposed by civil liberties and human rights campaigners, but the government is likely to be able to count on widespread public support for tougher measures following Wednesday’s horrific events, and the subsequent revelations about the killers that suggest they could have, and perhaps should have, been apprehended well before they carried out the attack.
While the security services may have been at fault with regard to Drummer Rigby’s killers, however, the police have displayed rather more alacrity when it comes to rounding up members of the public for making anti-Muslim comments on social media.
The British soldier killed by Islamists in a machete attack in London yesterday has been named as Drummer Lee Rigby, aged 25, from Manchester. He was married with a two-year-old son. In addition to performing ceremonial duties as a drummer with the Royal Regiment of Fusiliers, Drummer Rigby had served in Afghanistan.
Also today it was revealed that the two men who murdered Drummer Rigby were Britons of Nigerian descent, who were known to the security services. One of the men has been identified as 28-year-old Michael Adebolajo, a Muslim convert — it was Adebolajo who was seen justifying the killing in a video shot by an eyewitness shortly after the attack.
Police raided five addresses in London, and the home of Adebolajo’s father in Lincolnshire. They arrested a man and a woman on suspicion of conspiracy to murder, the first indication that the killers may not have been “lone wolves.”
The similarities with last month’s Boston bombings are striking. The perpetrators of both attacks are “home-grown” terrorists, and like the Tsarnaev brothers the London terrorists appear to have had associates, but not to have been part of a large recognized group. As was the case with Tamerlan Tsarnaev, Adebolajo and his accomplice had come to the attention of the security services, but appear to have slipped through the net, provoking criticism in sections of the UK press.
While the pressure cooker bombs used by the Tsarnaevs were sophisticated devices compared to the knives and machete used by the London killers, both attacks were relatively crude affairs compared to previous plots, both successful and unsuccessful. While there’s no suggestion of a link between Boston and London, it appears that Islamists have figured out they’re less likely to be apprehended if plots are kept relatively small and simple, with as few people as possible involved — Nidal Hasan’s shooting rampage at Fort Hood was another example.
Prime Minister David Cameron condemned the attacks in a speech this morning, and said the British people would “never give in to terror or terrorism.” He also paid tribute to Cub Scout leader Ingrid Loyau-Kennett, who in a remarkable act of bravery confronted the killers, and kept them talking in a bid to stop them attacking anyone else.
In other developments today, the Ministry of Defence was forced into a U-turn after announcing that members of the armed forces should not wear their uniforms in public. The decision was reversed after complaints that it could be construed as caving in to terrorism. Meanwhile the website of the charity Help for Heroes, which raises money for injured servicemen, crashed after it was swamped with donations; Drummer Rigby was wearing one of the charity’s T-shirts when he was killed, and the outpouring of support for the British Army that we’ve seen today is a fitting tribute to him.
More: Drummer Lee Rigby
A man thought to be a British soldier has been killed by Islamist terrorists in a horrific attack in broad daylight in a London street. Two men ran the victim over with a car before hacking him to death with knives and a machete, while shouting “Allahu Akbar.”
The attackers apparently filmed themselves carrying out the killing, and invited stunned bystanders to take photos and video of them posing beside their victim. Video has been aired on ITV news of one of the attackers brandishing a blood-stained machete and shouting at bystanders, as onlookers tried to help the slain man. He’s heard saying “I apologize that women had to witness this today, but in our lands women have to see the same.” Judging by the accent of the man speaking in the video, he’s either British born or has spent some years in the country, making it likely that the terrorists were “home-grown,” rather than from outside the country.
Other news outlets have reported that one of the men said, “We swear by almighty Allah we will never stop fighting you.”
When armed police arrived on the scene (British police officers are not routinely armed), the attackers confronted them with knives a handgun, and both were shot and wounded. They’re now under guard at London hospitals, and it’s not known at this stage whether they acted alone or are part of a larger plot; however, it’s clear that they had no fear of being killed or captured, and may well have intended to be “martyred.”
The attack took place in Woolwich in south-east London at 2.20 p.m. local time. The victim is believed to be a soldier based at the nearby Woolwich barracks, home to elements of the Royal Artillery; he was wearing a T-shirt from the charity Help for Heroes, which raises money for injured British soldiers.
One witness told a London radio station: “These two guys were crazed. They were just animals. They dragged him from the pavement and dumped his body in the middle of the road and left his body there.”
After all the controversy – it was too much, and too expensive; it would be marred by protests – this morning’s funeral for Lady Thatcher in London was a splendid and memorable affair, which did her memory, and her country, proud. It was a moving, dignified and pitch-perfect occasion: unmistakably British, and a fitting send-off for the country’s greatest post-war prime minister.
Big Ben fell silent – for the first time since the funeral of wartime leader Winston Churchill – and tens of thousands of admirers lined the streets to applaud Lady Thatcher’s coffin as it was borne on a horse-drawn gun carriage to St Paul’s Cathedral. The funeral was conducted with full military honors: the coffin was carried into St Paul’s by servicemen representing units that played key roles in the 1982 Falkands war against Argentina, and two of the field guns that fired a salute during the funeral procession had last been fired in anger during that conflict.
A solemn and dignified service followed, featuring choral music and hymns by Vaughan Williams, Elgar and Brahms among others. Lady Thatcher’s granddaughter, Amanda, read from Ephesians chapter 6 (in a soft but unmistakeable Texas accent – she’s the daughter of Lady Thatcher’s son Mark and his American first wife), and Prime Minister David Cameron from John chapter 14 (‘I am the way, the truth and the life’).
The Bishop of London gave an address in which he spoke about the strong personal faith that informed Lady Thatcher’s politics (she was baptized a Methodist and later converted to Anglicanism), and about how much the person he knew differed from some of the myths and caricatures. The final hymn was Lady Thatcher’s favorite I Vow To The My Country, and when her coffin was carried out of the cathedral the crowd erupted into cheers and applause as the cathedral’s bells rang out.
In the run-up to the funeral, much had been made of possible disruption by left-wing protestors, but in the event few turned up; the Washington Post, rather optimistically, had reported that protestors were expected to ‘line the streets’, but there were barely enough of them to line a taxi stand. I suspect that many of the louts and “activists” who have been filmed drinking and dancing on the streets of London and elsewhere in the past few days forgot to set their alarms, and slept through the whole thing. Those protestors that did show up struggled to get themselves noticed or heard; early on in the proceedings there were reports of objects being thrown at the funeral procession, but it turned out the only things that were thrown were flowers.
British MPs have tonight voted to back plans by Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron to legalize same-sex marriage. The House of Commons voted in favor of the proposals by 400 votes to 175, and the right for gay couples to marry is now all but certain to become the law of the land (unlike in the U.S., there’s no provision for local or regional governments to legislate on the issue).
Cameron has attempted to make a conservative case for gay marriage, claiming it will make the institution of marriage stronger, rather than weakening it. But while the result was a victory for him, it came at some cost: his party is deeply divided on the issue, and more than half of Tory MPs either voted against the bill or abstained (the government allowed a “free vote” on the issue, meaning MPs were not compelled to vote along party lines).
The changes will primarily affect civil marriages, although some smaller religious organizations, including the Quakers, have said they will conduct same-sex weddings. To counter fears from the Church of England and other churches that they will be forced to marry gay couples, the legislation includes a provision that no religious organization will be compelled to do so.
However, the government has tied itself in knots in order to push the legislation through. Bizarrely the legislation specifically bans the CofE from offering same-sex marriage – meaning that, even if the church in the future wanted to permit gay weddings, it couldn’t. Opponents of the plans, meanwhile, fear the legislation will not stand up to scrutiny in the European Court of Human Rights, and that in time every church will be forced to offer gay weddings.
Cameron has insisted that he wants to introduce gay marriage because “it’s the right thing to do.” But many Tory MPs believe the move is simply another step in Cameron’s bid to “modernize” the party, and “detoxify” the Conservative brand; the proposals did not appear in the party’s last election manifesto, and the issue is a low priority with most voters.
Cameron’s leadership on the issue is unlikely to do him much harm at the ballot box. Opinion polls show a majority of Britons who express an opinion are in favor of same-sex marriage, and while some polls have suggested that the controversy will cost the Tories more supporters than it gains them, the next general election is more than two years away, and will be dominated by the economy and, to a lesser extent, the UK’s relationship with Europe.
Religious groups opposed to the redefinition of marriage might be forgiven for wondering how Cameron squares his stance with his call just a few weeks ago for the Church of England to help counter the nation’s “slow-motion moral collapse.” Cameron would argue that the two points of view are not incompatible, but many Christians will see tonight’s vote as another victory for those who want to marginalize religious belief in Britain – and that’s before the law of unintended consequences kicks in, as it surely will.
British Prime Minister David Cameron this morning delivered his heavily anticipated speech on the UK’s future relationship with the European Union. Mr Cameron pledged that, should his Conservative party be returned to power in the 2015 general election, he would seek to renegotiate the terms of Britain’s EU membership, before holding a referendum that would give the British people the choice of staying in the EU on the new terms, or leaving entirely.
It’s long past time the British people were given a say on the issue. When two-thirds of voters opted to remain in the European Economic Community, as it was then called, back in 1975, the relationship was purely a trading one, based on the European “single market” (that referendum was held by a Labour government, after Tory Prime Minister Edward Heath had taken Britain into the EEC in 1973 without consulting the electorate).
Since then the EU has expanded, appropriating more and more power from national parliaments, particularly in the areas of business regulation and economic policy. There’s also been a relentless drive, led by Germany and France, towards greater fiscal and political union – a process that accelerated with the creation of the European single currency a decade ago, and which has been given greater, rather than less, impetus by the economic turmoil currently engulfing the continent (the solution to every problem confronting Europe is, its citizens are frequently told, “more Europe”).
Reaction to the speech suggests that Cameron may, for now, have succeeded in uniting his party, which has for years been beset by quarrelling between supporters of the EU and “euroskeptics.” But in other respects he’s kicked the can down the road; today’s speech was short on specifics (exactly which powers Cameron would seek to repatriate, for example), and several questions remain unanswered; among them, whether Cameron would himself campaign to leave the EU were he not to get everything he wanted from negotiations.
Cameron’s most pressing concern, however, is to retain power in 2015, and preferably without being bound into a coalition with the left-of-center Liberal Democrats, as he has been for the past two-and-a-half years. To that end he needs to neutralize the threat posed by the UK Independence Party (UKIP), which has positioned itself to the right of the Tories on the related issues of Europe and immigration (in a little under a year from now a new wave of economic migrants, from Romania and Bulgaria, is due to descend on Britain, taking advantage of EU “freedom of movement” laws).
Some interesting political news from the UK, which ties in with my piece on the front page about the couple who had three foster children taken from them because they were members of the right-of-centre UK Independence party (UKIP) – and which will perhaps provide a crumb of consolation for downcast U.S. conservatives.
Yesterday three special elections (we call them by-elections) were held to fill vacant seats in the House of Commons. All three were ‘safe’ seats for the left-of-centre Labour party, and as expected Labour held all three. UKIP, however – which is widely regarded as a fringe or protest party of the right – came second in two of the contests, and third in the other one; and its best result came in Rotherham, where the fostering controversy erupted over the weekend, and where UKIP finished second with more than a fifth of the vote.
The results were the party’s best showing in elections for the Westminster parliament. It’s likely the fostering controversy earned UKIP a few votes, especially in Rotherham, and it certainly gave the party bags of free national publicity in the days leading up to the elections; however, the party has been making steady progress in recent years.
UKIP’s success was a shot across the bows of the Conservative Party, which is in a coalition with the Liberal Democrats, who are essentially left-of-centre on most issues, but with a pro-business streak. Conservative Prime Minister David Cameron has allowed himself to be dragged to the centre by his coalition partners on issues including Britain’s relationship with the European Union and ‘green’ energy, to the dismay of many of his MPs, and the party’s grassroots supporters. His government has also failed to deliver a promised crackdown on immigration.
UKIP’s flagship policies are withdrawal from the EU, and an end to the largely uncontrolled mass immigration to the UK of the last couple of decades – both of which are supported by a majority of the British people. The party has attracted disillusioned voters from both the Conservatives and Labour, but it’s Cameron’s Conservatives who stand to lose the most from UKIP’s rise – by splitting the centre-right vote, it’s reckoned to have cost the Tories up to 21 seats, and an overall Commons majority, in the 2010 general election.
Last night’s results will increase the pressure on Cameron to move back to the right on Europe and immigration. There’s also talk of a Tory-UKIP pact at the next general election – which will be in 2015, if the coalition survives that long – with UKIP not fielding candidates in ‘marginal’ Conservative seats. The sticking point is the contempt that UKIP members harbor for Cameron, who in 2006 dismissed them as “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” as he sought to ingratiate himself with Britain’s liberal-left cultural and media establishment.
If Britain’s economy remains sluggish, and UKIP continues to out-poll the Tories in by-elections, local council elections and the 2014 European elections, there’s a good chance that Cameron will be ousted in favor of a more unabashedly right-wing leader. If he survives, he’ll have to lose face by cutting a deal with UKIP, or move his party far enough to the right to negate the UKIP threat. Either way, last night’s results were good news for British conservatives.
Earlier today I reported at PJ Media on how I was able to make donations to Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, despite being a British citizen. PJ Media is still waiting for a response from the Obama campaign, but we’re not holding our breath. We’ve also been in touch with the Federal Election Commission and the Government Accountability Institute.
Last night I telephoned the Obama campaign’s donation compliance department. The staffer I spoke to said she would refund my donations, but was unable to explain why they had been processed. She hung up on me when I asked to speak with someone who was authorized to talk to the press. I spoke to a second staffer at Obama HQ in Chicago, who was more helpful. She took my details, and said someone from the press department would phone me back, but they’ve yet to do so.
I’ve also sent emails to the compliance department and the campaign’s press office asking them to comment on my report, and to explain why they continue to accept donations from non-U.S. citizens – and specifically, why they don’t require donors to supply the CVV (card verification value) number for their payment card.
I also contacted the Federal Election Commission. A spokesperson told me that campaigns are only required by law to file with the commission details of individuals contributing more than $200. And they are only required to make “best efforts” to verify the mailing address of those donors; so it’s hard to see how FEC analysts would be able to detect a contribution of, say, $500 from a foreign citizen if they simply supplied a false U.S. address, as I did. Campaigns are required to keep details of individuals contributing lower amounts on file.
The spokesperson could not comment on any investigations currently in progress, saying details would be confidential. She told me that if I wanted to file a complaint, I could do so through the FEC’s normal filing procedure.
It’s been reported that Barack Obama’s re-election campaign is knowingly accepting donations from non-U.S. citizens, and PJ Media can confirm that it’s not only possible, but very easy, for foreign citizens to make contributions. I’ve been able to donate $25 to the Obama campaign in three separate transactions, despite being a lifelong British citizen resident in the UK. What’s more, two of my donations were processed despite the Obama campaign noting that I had provided a non-U.S. address, and despite my failure to provide proof of American citizenship when asked to do so.
I first tried to donate on October 6, via the donation page at BarackObama.com, the president’s official re-election campaign website. I entered my name, and my UK street address and city, as I figured that at a minimum I would need to supply these in order for my bank to process the transaction. I also supplied my email address.
However, in order to progress to the next screen I had to provide a U.S. state, postcode, and phone number. I have relatives in Massachusetts, so I chose MA from the list and entered my relatives’ postcode and a variation on their phone number, with the last four numbers changed so the state and area codes would be correct.
I then entered my debit card number (this is a card that draws on my checking account, as distinct from a credit card) and expiration date, but I was not asked to enter the three-digit CVV (card-verification value) number on the back of the card; I had seen reports that the Obama campaign had disabled the requirement to supply this number.
I clicked “donate,” and despite my intention to test the system, I was a little surprised to see that my donation was, initially at least, accepted – I figured it was still possible that the discrepancies in the address would show up. I received an acknowledgement of my donation from the Obama campaign via email, although the email did add that the donation was “subject to review.” I then made a second donation, for $5, so that I could take a screen grab of the page you see below.
As a control, I then tried to make a donation to the Romney campaign, entering the same information. This time, I was asked for the three-digit CVV number, and when I clicked “donate” I was immediately informed that the address I had entered did not match the address on file for the card.
I wasn’t entirely surprised when, on October 9, I received an email from the “compliance” department at the Obama campaign. The email said that, because I’d supplied a foreign address, I would need to supply a copy of the photo page from my U.S. passport in order to comply with Federal Election Commission regulations. I don’t have a U.S. passport of course, so I didn’t respond to the email. (Oddly, the email also said I needed to supply the passport page “even though you provided a passport number when donating online”; I hadn’t supplied a passport number when I donated, or been asked to supply one.)
Most Americans will have never heard of Jimmy Savile, the flamboyant disc jockey, television presenter, and charity campaigner who, by the time of his death last year at the age of 84, had become a legend in the field of what we Brits call “light entertainment.” Savile was best-known for the long-running BBC show Jim’ll Fix It, in which he would arrange for the wishes of youngsters to come true.
Savile was also famous for his gaudy costumes, his jewellery, his mane of silver hair, his cigars, and his numerous catchphrases. He was a bachelor, and managed on the whole to keep his private life private. Perhaps inevitably given his “unusual” lifestyle, and the fact that much of both his charity and broadcasting work involved him being around children, there were rumors of sexual misconduct, and a couple of allegations of indecent assault. Nothing, however, was proven.
So it did not come entirely as a surprise when, shortly after his death, new allegations of sexual assaults on teenage girls as young as 14 began to emerge. But the volume of complaints has grown at an astonishing rate. A few days ago, police investigating the claims described Savile as a “predatory sex offender,” and said they were pursuing 340 lines of inquiry involving 40 potential victims — including young boys — and were dealing with allegations dating back to 1959.
The fact that Savile was apparently able to get away with committing rapes and other assaults for so long is bad enough. But what’s even more disturbing is that most of the alleged attacks were carried out while he worked for the BBC, and in many cases are said to have taken place in its offices and dressing rooms. It’s claimed that senior figures at the BBC turned a blind eye to Savile‘s behavior over the years, and that of other male stars.
And the cover-up continued after Savile‘s death. When the allegations against the star became widespread the BBC’s Newsnight program began an investigation, but the report was never aired. The BBC is investigating both the decision to pull the investigation and the allegations against Savile, and senior figures in the corporation are to be quizzed by a parliamentary committee.
There’s a note of irony about the scandal in which the BBC finds itself embroiled. One reason why, at least in the 1960s and 1970s, Savile‘s bosses and colleagues were able to ignore or excuse his behavior was that it was taking place against the backdrop of the sexual revolution, and the advent of the “permissive society,” which the BBC played no small part in celebrating and promoting (for more on the prevailing “culture” at the BBC, read this eye-popping account by a female presenter). Nowadays, such is the extent to which the corporation has embraced the modern diktats of political correctness, any male employee who so much as holds the lift door open for a female colleague risks being hit with a sex discrimination complaint.
What makes this affair particularly galling for the BBC is that, while any major organization would rightly be castigated for systemically covering up sexual assaults on young girls, none has appointed itself the arbiter of an entire nation’s morals and tastes to the extent the BBC has. It’s by some distance the most smug and self-righteous institution in Britain; in its fervor to impose its liberal-left worldview on the British people (its influence is also growing worldwide) it puts most religious bodies to shame.
The video currently doing the rounds in which Mitt Romney writes off 47% of the electorate as never going to vote for him because they’re “dependent upon government” looks rather like his “bitter gun clingers” moment. As with Romney’s remarks, Obama made his notorious claim to what he assumed was a “friendly” audience at a fundraiser during the 2008 primary campaign. Conservatives seized on Obama’s words as evidence of his innermost beliefs and his disdain for Middle America, and many thought they would handicap him in the general election. We know how that turned out.
The left is now crowing that Romney’s “revealing” gaffe has all but handed the election to Obama, and of course the big difference is that Romney’s remarks are sure to get a lot more coverage than Obama’s ever did. But while he’s being hammered on this by Democrats and their MSM allies, Romney can and should turn the situation to his advantage. His campaign quickly put out a statement in a bid to clarify his remarks, but Romney should go further and use this opportunity to rekindle the debate about the whole issue of entitlements and dependency on government.
As several commentators have pointed out, Romney’s numbers are muddled. He appears to be conflating the 47% of Americans who pay no federal income taxes (although, as Patrick Brennan points out at The Corner, many of that group do pay other taxes) with the 47% of voters that, as Jay Cost has noted, roughly constitute the “floor” of support for Democratic presidential candidates.
I like messing about with Photoshop, so I couldn’t resist joining in the #EmptyChairDay fun. Here’s my first effort:
That one took a while, and I was planning on leaving it there, but then I saw this tweet from David Limbaugh:
Several tweeters observed that, unlike Obama, the chair didn’t throw like a girl.
Then I got my first direct commission:
Then I got another request…A change of chair was called for here – I tried it with the farmhouse chair, but there wasn’t enough background detail to clone out Obama, and anyway, I think the big leather number works better…
Thanks to David, Cary and Buckeye Einstein for the ideas – and Happy #EmptyChairDay!
I just watched Clint Eastwood’s convention speech again, and it came across a lot better second time around. When I watched it live it had seemed more disjointed; but that was around 3 a.m. UK time this morning. I was forcing myself to stay awake for Romney’s speech, and I was also following Twitter as Eastwood was speaking, so I wasn’t fully paying attention. When I watched it properly — as most of the television audience would have done last night — it made perfect sense, while being undeniably off the wall.
There was still that part around the middle where Eastwood was briefly incoherent, and it does make for slightly uncomfortable viewing. But watching the Democrats crowing on Twitter and the blogosphere today I’d begun to fear that perhaps the speech had been as big a disaster as they were claiming. It wasn’t.
Eastwood’s skit was all the more engaging for its spontaneity and the occasionally rambling delivery. As Richard Fernandez says on the home page, “It wasn’t the speech of someone who was running for office.” You got the feeling Eastwood was doing this a little reluctantly, out of a sense of duty, in stark contrast to the Hollywood liberals who never miss an opportunity to engage in self-righteous grandstanding and brag of their intimacy with President Obama — “hot-dogging it,” in Clint-speak.
At the moment, however, the nearest thing the Democrats have to star quality for next week’s convention in Charlotte is Eva Longoria, the former Desperate Housewives actress who’s also the face of L’Oréal and, most recently, cat food. Her speech is sure to be polished and teleprompted; it’s also sure to be predictable, tediously earnest, and have little appeal beyond the convention hall and Latino special interest groups (Longoria is an immigration activist, and a budding constitutional scholar).
In the meantime liberals are whistling past the graveyard, claiming that Eastwood’s convention turn has somehow damaged the Romney campaign and handed the Democrats an advantage. But do they really think undecided voters might be put off supporting the GOP ticket because a movie legend isn’t quite as eloquent as he used to be? On the contrary, it’s likely that his message will have resonated with many swing voters, the delivery notwithstanding.
Typical of the attacks on Eastwood was Michael Moore’s in the Daily Beast, in which Moore claims to represent “the American mainstream” in the same breath as mocking an 82-year-old national icon. That combination of tone-deafness and spitefulness is a hallmark of liberalism, and it’s become a feature of the Obama administration — and it’s why I suspect Eastwood will have the last laugh in November.
I doubt Lianne Mellor has read The Road to Serfdom. As a young, artistically inclined person I wouldn’t be surprised to hear that she describes herself as a liberal rather than a conservative. And I’m pretty sure that, living in England, she won’t be familiar with Obama’s “You didn’t build that” speech, in which he essentially declared that no small business owner or entrepreneur can achieve anything without the help of a vast, benevolent government.
But amid all that’s been written and said by politicians and commentators in the last couple of days hammering Obama for his denigration of business and business people, Lianne, without realizing it, has offered the most eloquent and heartfelt rebuttal of the President’s weltanschauung that I’ve heard.
Unable to find work after qualifying as an architect, Lianne set up her own business producing tea sets and other homewares decorated with her own illustrations. She had support from a business advice service run by her local council, but essentially she did it on her own, progressing in just a couple of years from working in her dad’s garage to having her products stocked by upmarket British stores.
And she’s not afraid to take the credit for her success. Interviewed by BBC News for a feature on young people trying to find work in Britain’s struggling economy, she said:
“It’s really, really hard work but it’s so worth it. And when you can look around you at the end of each day and think ‘I got me here, you’re only here because of your own hard work’, and everything around you, you’ve created…”
“I got me here.” It’s an infinitely more appealing and inspiring mantra than “You didn’t build that”; it’s a celebration of earned success, and the polar opposite of Obama’s paean to stifling, destructive big government. Put it on a T-shirt. Put it on a bumper sticker. Get this girl to speak at the Republican convention.
Lianne’s website is here (I suspect Americans will like her quirky, Beatrix Potter-esque designs) and she’s also on Twitter. She might not care for being held up as the Ayn Rand of decorative pottery, and I don’t expect her to endorse anyone in the US elections. But it won’t be lost on American conservatives that this resourceful, proudly independent young woman produces all the paraphernalia you need to hold a tea party.
Channelling Iowahawk, Robert Gibbs Takes Obama’s ‘Car in the Ditch’ Metaphor to New Heights of Absurdity
Liberals may be dead set against torturing terror suspects, but they appear to have no such qualms about torturing metaphors. Just when you thought you’d heard the last of Obama’s ‘car in the ditch’ stump speech routine, his former press secretary turned campaign advisor Robert Gibbs dragged it out of its cell, waterboarded it and pulled out its fingernails.
“When Barack Obama got the keys to the bus it was trapped in the ditch with three flat tires. We’ve changed the tires, we’ve pulled the bus out of the ditch, and we’re starting up the road to strengthening the middle class,” Gibbs said this morning.
“There’s a different theory. Mitt Romney wants to take that bus — probably a bus made in Switzerland or Bermuda – and he wants to turn that bus around, he wants to pick up some millionaires and billionaires and shower them with cash,” he said.
The most obvious evolution from the Obama version to the Gibbs version, aside from the fact that Romney is mentioned by name (although interestingly he isn’t “sucking on a slurpee”), is that the car is now a bus, which is an unfortunate modification coming from an adviser to a president who’s famous for throwing former associates who’ve become a liability, from Jeremiah Wright to his own grandmother, under just such a vehicle (I was going to mention Van Jones, but I thought introducing a Van into a post already containing a car and a bus might seem flippant). Also, in the Obama telling, the car usually had “a few dinks and dents,” but there was no mention of one flat tire, let alone three.
Gibbs takes the metaphor in a new and wonderful direction, however, when he turns his attention to Romney’s diabolical plans for the recovered vehicle. Gibbs says it was “probably” made in “Switzerland or Bermuda,” two countries associated with rich people, secret banks accounts and tax avoidance.
But this was the same bus that, Gibbs tells us, Obama and the Democrats were about to drive off in, down the “road to strengthening the middle class.” Did they have no qualms about traveling in a vehicle that was presumably made out of melted-down Nazi gold, sitting on seats upholstered with the skin of Bermudan peasants?
And while we’re on the subject of where the bus was built, didn’t Gibbs’ former boss last year embark on his ‘economic recovery tour’ of struggling heartland states in a bus made in Canada? Granted, Canada isn’t the pariah state for liberals that Switzerland or Bermuda are, but when the conversation turns to creating American jobs, it’s probably wise to leave buses out of the discussion.
You have to hand it to Gibbs, though, when he introduces the “millionaires and billionaires” into the story. While this shorthand for evil rich people has become one of Obama’s stock phrases, not even the president in his pomp would have attempted to work it into the ‘car in the ditch’ story. It’s a rhetorical feat with an extraordinarily high degree of difficulty, akin to Tiger Woods sinking a 30-yard putt while simultaneously hitting on a cocktail waitress.
I can only assume that Gibbs – a man who, during his tenure as Obama’s spokesman, earned more laughs while trying to be serious than most comedians get in a lifetime – was aiming for parody. But while it’s a fine effort, it doesn’t come close to the gold standard of Obama metaphor mockery. Take it away, Iowahawk…
Nine men were jailed in Britain last week for raping and abusing dozens of girls aged as young as 13 over a period of several years in the northern town of Rochdale. The men plied the girls with drink and drugs before assaulting them, in a practice known by the appalling euphemism of “grooming.” One girl was raped by 20 men in one night; another had an abortion after becoming pregnant by one of her attackers. Police are trying to track down other victims of the gang, and are hunting up to 40 more suspects.
These would be horrific crimes under any circumstances. But the case had an added dimension that has provoked much controversy: All of the rapists were Muslims, and all of their victims were white. Predictably, racist groups such as the British National Party are trying to exploit the case, citing it as evidence that the sexual abuse of white women by Muslim men is widespread in Britain. Equally true to form, many liberals in the media, politics, the criminal justice system and others charged with guarding the flame of multiculturalism are falling over themselves to deny that “race” has anything to do with it.
Leading the campaign to persuade the public that there’s “nothing to see here” in terms of the identities of the rapists and their victims was the chief of the police force that investigated the case, who insisted it was “not a racial issue.” The mantra was taken up by the left-wing Guardian newspaper, a prominent Labour MP, and assorted left-wing bloggers, while the BBC — the taxpayer-funded propaganda arm of Britain’s liberal-left establishment — carried the message far and wide in its television and online reporting. The ability of sections of the media to produce lengthy reports without mentioning the word “Muslim” was something to behold; by way of contrast, try to imagine the same outlets reporting on a sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church and omitting the word “Catholic.”
Unfortunately, the evidence points overwhelmingly to the contrary. Out of 77 men convicted of similar “grooming” offences in recent years, 67 were Pakistani, while analysis of several cases has shown that 94 percent of perpetrators were, in the official terminology, “Asian.” And in every case, the victims have been overwhelmingly young white girls. While this doesn’t, as racist groups claim, mean the abuse of white girls by Muslim men is endemic, there is clearly a racial element to these crimes.
(The “Asian” race category encompasses a vast number of ethnicities and religions, from Indian Sikhs and Hindus to Filipino Christians. Not for the first time, Britain’s many and varied Asian communities have been angered to find themselves lumped together with Muslims in the coverage of horrific crimes.)
The race of the gang members themselves isn’t an issue, but their religion and associated cultural attitudes, and the racism that these foster, are. The fact that in this case, as in previous ones, the perpetrators were Muslims, and from parts of the world where extremist forms of that religion hold sway — eight of the Rochdale gang were of Pakistan origin and the ninth was an Afghan — has absolutely everything to do with the case, and it’s just one uncomfortable aspect that liberals don’t want to confront.
Another is the fact that politically correct attitudes to all things “racial” among the relevant authorities meant the victims’ ordeals went on for years longer than might have been the case. Many of the victims were from broken homes and under the supervision of social workers, but when they reported abuse to their carers, the police and prosecutors failed to act because, it’s claimed, they were “petrified of being called racist.”
As we all know, Republicans have for some time now been engaged in a War on Women. According to Al Sharpton, they’ve also declared a War on Blacks. And in the coming days and weeks, in the wake of Obama’s decision to support gay marriage following years of
poll soul-searching, we can expect the White House and compliant media to start putting it about that the GOP is waging a War on Gays; Chris Matthews was on the case within minutes of the President’s interview being broadcast, followed today by the Washington Post, with a hit piece on Mitt Romney that may already be unravelling.
Three wars! This is getting ridiculous – even the entire US military is only expected to be capable of fighting two wars at a time. The Republican troops are certainly going to be spread thin in the coming months; it’s a good job the Romney-led War on Dogs fizzled out before it really got going.
The social issue ‘wars’ are, of course, inventions of the Democrats, but I think a better analogy for these manufactured controversies from the Republican point of view is forest fires. Obama is scuttling around the forest, starting social issue fires left, right and center – the Sandra Fluke phone call, the Trayvon Martin speech, and now the gay marriage ‘evolution’. As each one takes hold, the Obama-friendly media arrives on the scene shouting “Fire!” at the top of their lungs (or, in the case of Matthews, shrieking like a girl). Republicans rush to try to put the fire out, or at least stop it spreading, but just as they get one blaze under control, another one erupts.
The idea is to keep the Republicans chasing around, tamping down social issue flare-ups, until November so that they’re not able to focus on the real problems, which are jobs and the economy (I won’t try to take the analogy any further). It’s a deeply cynical strategy on the part of Obama and his team, but the fact that they’re resorting to it this early on suggests a degree of desperation that I find encouraging.
As the campaign takes shape, each time the Democrats attempt to bring up social issues Romney should politely explain that he would rather not waste time talking about matters that Americans will inevitably disagree on, and which cannot be quickly or easily resolved by the President or Congress; and that he would prefer to focus on the subjects that are of pressing concern to every American – the economy and jobs, and Obama’s utter failure on both counts.
As expected, the socialist Francois Hollande has defeated Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s presidential election. Meanwhile, in Greece, and also as expected, exit polls for the country’s parliamentary elections are predicting chaos. The center-right New Democracy party has won about a fifth of the vote, with a hard-left coalition pushing the center-left Pasok into third place, while just to make things interesting, neo-Nazis have picked up around 7% of the vote and are set to enter parliament for the first time.
In short, these results represent a comprehensive rejection of the austerity-based plans to salvage the eurozone’s indebted economies, both in the impoverished south of the continent and the slightly-less-impoverished north. As I wrote two weeks ago, Hollande has pledged to renegotiate the European ‘Fiscal Compact’, which was designed to impose fiscal discipline on the continent’s governments and on which the ink is barely dry.
In Greece, the disparate parties must now to try to cobble together a coalition government. If they fail, there will be another election; if they succeed, it will be at the cost of concessions to the anti-austerity parties of the far left and right. The Greek people have so far insisted that they want to remain in the euro, while rejecting the austerity and reforms on which continued membership is conditional; something will soon have to give.
With Germany now almost alone in backing austerity as the solution to the eurozone’s problems, the break-up of the single currency – beloved of statists, social democrats (who would pass for socialists in the US) and bureaucrats – is a step closer this evening. The death throes could last for years, and will inflict great pain on millions of people. But for those who believe in small government, individual liberty and the pre-eminence of the nation state, while supporting economic co-operation between nations, there is some light at the end of the tunnel.
Europe’s high-tax, high-spending, mass immigration-fueled social democratic welfare racket wasn’t going to last forever. The eurozone project plastered over the cracks by transferring money from north to south, and the financial crisis that began in 2008 has merely brought forward the day of reckoning. It was always going to get worse before it could get better.
The tax hikes and cuts in spending that governments have imposed in a bid to keep the eurozone together have done little to tackle the underlying debt crisis, and nothing to produce the growth which is the the continent’s only hope of recovery. They’ve succeeded only in driving disillusioned electorates towards extremist parties. In Greece some of those extremists will soon be part of the government, while in France they’re waiting in the wings; Hollande relied on the support of Communist parties to defeat Sarkozy, who himself finished only narrowly ahead of the far-right National Front’s candidate in the first round of voting.
There will be all kinds of predictions in the next few days as to where Europe goes from here, but the truth is we’re in uncharted territory now. All we know for sure is that things are about to get interesting.
It would be understandable for those American conservatives who take an interest in goings-on in Europe (and I appreciate that many will have grown bored of the regular announcements that the debt-mired continent has been ‘saved’, followed a few days later by the news that it’s once again at the brink) to root instinctively for Nicolas Sarkozy in France’s presidential election run-off a week on Sunday.
As Michel Gurfinkiel writes on the front page, Sarokozy, of the nominally conservative UMP, finished narrowly behind the Socialist Party’s Francois Hollande in yesterday’s first round of voting. The outcome of the run-off will depend on how many votes each can pick up from the eliminated candidates.
Opinion polls, which called the first round pretty accurately, suggest a win for Hollande, and crunching the numbers he appears to have a slight edge; factor in Sarkozy’s personal unpopularity and the ‘throw the bums out’ mood of French voters and the margin grows. Sarkozy could still turn things around; however, from a conservative viewpoint, his defeat would be no bad thing.
When Sarkozy came to power in 2007 he was hailed in some quarters as a French Reagan or Thatcher, the man who would finally take on the unions and other vested interests to cut taxes, reform the public services and free businesses and industry from burdensome regulations.
He made some progress, but was thrown off course when the financial crisis hit in 2008. Sarkozy soon reverted to the time-honored French policies of state intervention, or dirigisme, raising taxes and clamping down on what he called the “dictatorship of the market”. Acknowledging this change of direction he even mused “Have I become a socialist? Perhaps.” From the French Reagan to the French Bernie Sanders in a little over a year.
Sarkozy was pushed further to the left by the rise of Hollande, who has promised big increases in state spending, 60,000 new teaching jobs (Sarkozy had promised 100,000 new state-subsidized jobs), a rise in the minimum wage and a 75% top tax rate on high earners (sound familiar?). He’s also pledged to scrap Sarkozy’s modest proposal to raise the retirement age from 60 to 62.
While it’s tempting to leave French voters to choose their poison, the result of this election will have implications for the rest of Europe and beyond. While Sarkozy has so far gone along with Germany in promoting austerity-led policies in a bid to tackle Europe’s sovereign debt crisis, Hollande favors an approach based on more borrowing and more spending to promote growth – precisely the policies that brought ruin to Greece and now threaten Italy and Spain. He’s also pledged to ‘renegotiate’ the Fiscal Compact that Europe’s leaders signed in March, which holds nations to strict deficit limits.
As this Wall Street Journal analysis makes clear, France is already heading for the edge of the fiscal cliff; the only question is how quickly it gets there. Yesterday’s victory for Hollande caused European stocks to fall, and if he prevails in the run-off and makes good on his promises, the bond markets could soon begin to take a tougher line with France, as they have with Europe’s southern nations (French banks are already dangerously exposed to Spanish and Italian debt).
A Sarkozy win would postpone the day of reckoning, but if he continues to pursue his socialist-lite polices then France will eventually find itself facing a Greek-style crisis either way. That would hasten a radical restructuring, and perhaps the break-up, of the single currency eurozone, which in turn would drive another nail into the coffin of the European welfare state model – which the eurozone has helped to sustain way beyond its sell-by date by propping up the continent’s weaker countries with borrowed money.
That’s an outcome fiscal conservatives both in Europe and the US should welcome, and if Mitt Romney is elected in November the opportunity will exist to once again demonstrate the superiority of America’s free-market model for those who need persuading, or reminding. And when France goes over the cliff it will be better to have a full-throated socialist in the driver’s seat than a discredited conservative.
Bryan posted earlier on the hysterical reaction of Mediaite’s Tommy Christopher to Mitt Romney’s use of the slogan “Obama Isn’t Working” for one of his campaign websites. Christopher claims the words evoke racial stereotypes about “shiftless” black men.
As Bryan noted, only a race-obsessed liberal would look at the slogan and divine a meaning other than that which is clearly intended: that Obama’s policies aren’t working for America, and that large numbers of people are unemployed as a consequence.
But something Christopher failed to mention in his rant was that Romney was simply borrowing an entirely appropriate and highly effective message that helped former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher win the 1979 general election and throw out James Callaghan’s Labour government, which like the Obama administration had presided over rising unemployment.
The brilliantly simple slogan appeared on a poster devised by the advertising agency Saatchi & Saatchi, which depicted a queue of people outside an unemployment benefits office (the Romney campaign has borrowed that picture too, but I’d suggest they update it with one that includes plenty of young people and minorities for maximum effect). The ad was voted poster of the century in 1999.
Christopher also didn’t mention that the Romney campaign explained the inspiration for ‘Obama Isn’t Working’ when it first rolled out the website last year. (He posted an update after the fact was brought to his attention, snarkily calling the Romney campaign’s explanation ‘elaborate’ when it was perfectly straightforward; it’s Christopher who’s being elaborate).
The fact that Romney openly acknowledged the provenance of the phrase stands in stark contrast to the behavior of Joe Biden. Biden, you may remember, ripped off whole chunks of a speech by Neil Kinnock, who as leader of the Labour party was Thatcher’s nemesis for a decade.
Kinnock lost elections to Thatcher in 1987 and 1992, and Biden’s plagiarism helped put paid to his presidential ambitions in 1987. The lesson would seem to be: if you’re going to borrow someone’s idea, make sure you borrow a winning one.
*I’d love to get into the semantics of the original Thatcher slogan, and discuss how the words ‘Labour’ and ‘Working’ were cleverly employed as homonyms. However, I fear Christopher would accuse me of homophobia.