Recent Blog Articles
If the general election in May 2015 is fought on who is best placed to deal with the deficit, then the Labour party will lose. Both Labour and the Tories know this. Miliband will focus on living standards, the NHS and inequality. So why a major speech on the deficit today, six months before an election? And why a pledge to cut spending and the debt?
Both the politics of what’s going on, and the numbers that underline it, are important.
The Labour leadership feel, quite rightly, that George Osborne wants to push public services off a cliff with unprecedented cuts. They lost the first fight on austerity, for reasons I outline here. But they recognise that if they don’t fight Osborne back this time, he will once away get away with having the media debate on his own terms.
Which is why Miliband’s speech is important today. He wants to hammer that the extent of Osborne’s cuts will “return Britain to the 1930s” if he is allowed to hoodwink people into accepting them.
A few things to remember.
1) Labour has not signed up to the extent or the way Tories plan to cut the deficit. Ignore the hype, read this piece.
2) Miliband will say quite emphatically, as one of his key principles: Britain will only be able to deal with the deficit by tackling the cost-of-living crisis. That means a focus on raising wages, and cutting spending like housing benefit by building more housing.
3) Labour will “ensure that those with the broadest shoulders bear the greatest burden” – will be another key principle. That means a much bigger emphasis on tax rises than the Conservatives, to close the deficit.
And this is the key paragraph:
This is now a fight for the soul of our country. It is a fight about who we want to be and how we want to live together. The Tory vision is clear: the wealthiest being looked after, everybody else on their own, public services not there when you need them. Our vision is different: a country that works for everyday people, with public services your family can rely on, a government that prioritises working people so that we can earn our way out of the cost of living crisis, a Britain built on strong economic foundations.
I’m pleased that Miliband is seeking to expose Osborne’s horrendous plans and set up a clear dividing line.
Rather than complain that this is another speech about the deficit than something important like the NHS, we need to see it for what it is: an attempt to expose Osborne’s ideological agenda to permanently slash Britain’s public services.
I oppose positive discrimination because white men have run the most successful positive discrimination scheme of all time
I was invited this week to speak at Cambridge University, with the topic title: “Does Britain need more positive discrimination?“. We could interpret this however we liked.
Below is roughly what I said.
In the 1940s, When Vera Rubin told her school physics professor that she’d been accepted into Vassar, an arts college near New York City, he said, “That’s great. As long as you stay away from science, it should be okay.”
Predictably, she didn’t. Rubin went on prove there was vastly more dark matter in the universe than previously thought, and overturned some basic laws of Newtonian physics.
And yet, she was turned down from the astronomy program at Princeton because they didn’t allow women. For years the scientific community ignored her work, only accepting it later after her male colleagues validated it. She didn’t get a Nobel prize for her work.
a) Before you came to this talk, I suspect some of you thought to yourself: I bet someone from the talk is going to open with a sob story of a gifted black-disabled-lesbian woman, to illustrate why we need positive discrimination.
But you’re wrong – I oppose positive discrimination. I oppose positive discrimination with every breath because, like many of you, I believe it to be unfair. Why should someone get promoted just because they belong to a minority group, instead of their ability? It’s wrong!
b) Between 1 and 3% of the British population are white men who graduated from Oxford or Cambridge. Yet, they completely dominate the worlds of higher academia, politics and business. Just 0.5% of all university professors in Britain are black. Just two FTSE 100 companies have a female chair.
THAT, my friends, is the most successful positive discrimination scheme of all time. A group of white, middle-aged men have successfully discriminated against anyone who didn’t look like them for centuries. THIS is why I’m utterly opposed to positive discrimination!
c) Diversity isn’t about gender or skin colour – it’s about background, experience and mindset. But all of those are usually the by-product of having a different gender or skin colour. And studies consistently show that companies or groups with more diversity do better than those more homogenous. Why? Because people with different mindsets look to solve problems in different ways. If we want more innovation, we don’t need more positive discrimination, but we do need more diversity.
d) Look around you: there is rampant positive discrimination everywhere – albeit in favour of white middled-aged men. But worse, because of this positive discrimination, we all lose out. Yes, even you, the white Cambridge man at the back – you lose out too!
I bet you’re thinking: that doesn’t make sense, I’ve hit the jackpot. how do I lose out? But you do.
If our companies and government had been more diverse to begin with, hiring talent from any gender, race or sexual orientation they could find, we would have far more progress than we do now. We could be chilling on hoverboards and flying around the world at twice the speeds for half the environmental cost. We could have solved our energy or poverty crisis .
Put it another way. It’s a bit like me raising you all in prison and then saying, wouldn’t it be great if the prisoners could also enjoy as much freedom as the wardens?
. We aren’t fulfilling our potential as a civilisation because the vast majority of intelligent people out there don’t get the opportunity to use their talents. They are shunned in favour of a narrow minority.
A woman Mexican engineer may have thought of a brilliant way to extend battery life. But since Apple hired its first high-ranking female executive in 24 years only recently, you are still cursing them for the shit battery life on your phone. You lose out too!
This is why I oppose positive discrimination, because so far it has been used to help white men. I want to see an end to this regime of positive discrimination.
Postscript: I was asked in the debate afterwards, so I’ll make this clear: in order to redress the balance I think it’s fine to have quotas for women, but not racial minorities.
UKIP have unveiled this poster as a PR stunt for a by-election
— Sunny Hundal (@sunny_hundal) October 25, 2014
The response by the usual UKIP-faithful has been that I should be more outraged about child sexual abuse than the poster.
1) I have been writing about on of this kind of child sexual abuse (by gangs, usually of predominantly Pakistani-heritage men) for over ten years. Sometimes even at the risk of helping the BNP. I wrote two angry articles about the Rotherham scandal too. So don’t preach to me on what I should get angry about.
2) You can be very angry about child sex abuse without using it as a PR stunt to score political points. This is what UKIP are doing.
What’s more striking is UKIP hypocrisy.
And don’t say UKIP never turn up to vote at EU affairs, because they do.
They couldn’t bother to vote on legislation on child abuse at EU, but they’re now trying to score political points from it.
The comedian Russell Brand was interviewed on Newsnight last night about his book, which you can watch above.
One headline is that Brand casually implies 9/11 was an inside job because George Bush had links to the Saudis, before half-heartedly back-tracking.
But I was more depressed by the first 10 minutes of conversation, and I want to explain why because I think this matters in a wider context.
In the debate Evan Davis wants to ask Brand a simple question: what is the alternative you propose? The comedian, who has apparently written an entire book calling for a revolution, doesn’t have a straight answer. Brand says the current system isn’t working (partly true) and points to activism by others challenging the consensus.
Brand says he is merely a high-profile voice and his job is to amplify the work of others. I think that’s fair enough.
But Davis has a more profound question that Brand clearly doesn’t want to answer. My version of that question goes like this: If you want to replace the current system of capitalism with something else, who is going to make your jeans, iPhones and run Twitter?
I.e. capitalism clearly has downsides, but it also leads to products that people really want to use. The desire for profit has led companies like Apple, Levi’s and Twitter to create popular products that – especially in the case of social media – we can sometimes even use for free (in return for being forced to watch advertising, of course).
In the debate, Evan Davis asks Brand about the fact that wages have historically gone up: making billions of people richer and allowing them to afford products like fridge freezers, TVs and iPhones. Brand’s response is: “Mate, I ain’t got time for a bloody graph“.
And then there are other responses that suggest he is blindly oblivious to his own privilege.
Russell Brand says stop paying your mortgage or going to work. Let me know how that works out for you pic.twitter.com/OoMnD2d5c7
— Anita Singh (@anitathetweeter) October 21, 2014
The problem I have with Russell Brand is that his style of politics is anti-intellectualism on an epic scale. He isn’t just leaving the heavy lifting to others, he casually dismisses facts like they are irrelevant.
Yes, our capitalist system is breaking down and our democracy has many flaws with it. But any discussion that starts with the premise that we need a revolution to over-throw the system must at least have a response to the inevitable: “and replace it with what?”
This isn’t to say I’m in favour of unadulterated capitalism or that I think cooperatives, mutuals, non-profit groups or social enterprises have no place. In fact we need far more of them. But, in effect, the Russell Brand critique is mild because all it really wants is a bit less of what is currently on offer a bit more of… some nice things that other people are asking for. To dress that up as a ‘revolution’ is plainly fatuous.
The establishment humours Russell Brand because he poses little threat to the system. Newsnight has him on because he’s good for their ratings, not because they want to bring down the system too. The lack of an effective critique means that people will listen to him, glaringly see the obvious contradictions and unanswered questions, and dismiss the Left as over-privileged white guys who don’t want to work but want their iPhones anyway.
A few years ago, I was going past the occupation of Parliament Square. I was quite defensive of the activists in the media and wanted to spend a bit of time just getting to know them. Bad idea. I came in being quite sympathetic, but soon realised that some of the people there only spoke in cliches and hadn’t actually looked into the nuances of what they were saying. The woman I was talking to seemed to think everything was a conspiracy. Soon she was joined by some people who firmly believed 9/11 was an inside job. I made an hasty exit. Of course, every group has its share of cranks but it was a very sobering experience.
If Brand gets more apolitical people to question the world they’re in, then great. But I worry about something else: that there’s a broader slide towards anti-intellectualism among lefties where facts don’t matter and smart critiques are junked in favour of cliches. The world is a messy place and our politicians are very flawed people. But we have to work (sometimes within the system) to continually reform it and improve it, not wait around for some vague revolution that will never come. If the end result is the UKIP-isation of the Left then I don’t want any part of that revolution.
Also worth reading: Why Owen Jones is wrong to suggest that criticism of Russell Brand is merely ‘snottiness’ — by Abi Wilks
I’ve not waded that much into the debate on Scotland’s future, partly because I’ve been focusing on ISIS and partly because its not my fight. I support the Union but its up to the people of Scotland to decide and they’re unlikely to be persuaded by this random guy from London.
But I’m perplexed by the pro-independence position that some lefties have taken, particularly the Green party.
The Yes Scotland campaign say their economy is strong and can survive independence thanks to natural resources such as oil and gas. Its a key claim on their website and its true; oil and gas would be key to an independent Scotland’s finances.
Revenue from oil and gas is also how an independent Scotland will pay its bill and stave off deep spending cuts. I’m not saying they’re the only source of revenue but they’re very key to Scotland’s future. Without them there would be deep cuts. Independence would make Scotland even more dependent on that revenue.
As you can see from the chart above, revenue from fossil fuels easily dwarfs everything else combined.
Scotland wants to invest in renewable energy, but the money for investment will inevitably have to come from further investment and money raised through oil and gas.
So why are the Green Party supporting an outcome that makes a nation even more dependent on exploiting its oil and gas resources?
Can someone explain this to me?
If the Greens are arguing that Independence will make Scotland less dependent on fossil fuels, I’d like to see the evidence and sums, since the YES campaign in Scotland isn’t saying that at all.
Last night President Obama delivered a speech on how the United States would tackle the threat of ISIS. It rightly deserves a lot of parsing and discussion.
There have broadly been two types of responses:
“Oh no, the USA is back to fighting a war in Iraq again! This won’t end well!” … or…
“Oh god, this won’t do anything to destroy ISIS. The President isn’t doing enough!”
Both are wrong and exaggerated. Here are a few thoughts.
1) The aim of Obama’s speech was primarily to reassure the American public that he was doing something about ISIS. It’s more right to say he isn’t doing enough, but that’s probably a good thing as I explain below. In fact his strategy now isn’t any different to a few weeks ago when he said he had no strategy. And there are good reasons why there is no clear strategy.
2) The President didn’t announce anything new other than the prospect of some air-strikes in Syria against ISIS (and possibly Assad). There was a mention of training moderate Syrian rebels in Saudi Arabia, but there are some reports this is already happening in Jordan. That’s about it. He ruled out U.S. troops going back into Iraq or Syria, until he is President anyway.
3) There is some merit to the complaint that Obama isn’t doing enough. Air-strikes will dent ISIS but not destroy them, which will take ground troops in both countries. But the USA hasn’t been able to persuade any outside partners (Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Jordan) to commit to troops to destroy ISIS yet. This is why Obama’s announcements amounted to little; there is little the US can do by itself that won’t make the situation worse.
4) In the short and medium term I suspect the Islamic State will expand in size and strength. The Arab countries and Turkey are too scared to confront ISIS (militarily and ideologically) and are still hoping the US will do their dirty work for them. Obama, wisely, isn’t buying it. He has avoided falling for the ISIS trap.
5) I asked others what they would have wanted to see instead.
@sunny_hundal well, a time machine so a UN/int'l effort to stop Bashar before things spiraled out of control would be nice. ????????
— Hend (@LibyaLiberty) September 11, 2014
Well, I’m with Hend on that. Part of the blame for not intervening in Syria lies with those lefties and Muslims (across the US and UK) who opposed such action…but there’s little we can do about that now.
6) If a terrorist attack is committed in the name of ISIS in mainland Europe (most likely France) or the United States, then this will all change.
Let’s get two caveats out of the way first: I’m neither a Muslim and nor am I religious in any sense (I come from a Sikh family). Secondly, anyone who’s read my work knows I have zero sympathy for religiously motivated terrorists. In fact I even supported the invasion of Afghanistan in 2001 to take out the Taliban.
Yesterday the Evening Standard said in its Editorial Comment: “Muslim communities must be far more outspoken about this: we look to them, for instance, to organise protests against the Islamic State.”
I’ve also seen various tweets by people asking why more Muslims aren’t speaking out against ISIS, or condemning it. In response there’s this.
If you think Muslims aren't condemning ISIS, it's not because Muslims aren't condemning ISIS. It's because you're not listening to Muslims.
— Hend (@LibyaLiberty) August 20, 2014
But even asking for condemnations is ridiculous. Muslims globally are no more responsible for the actions of ISIS than British Jews are for Israeli war-crimes. During the Gaza offensive no one asked British Jews to apologise for the Israeli bombs that killed hundreds of children. This is despite the fact that British Jews do go and fight in the IDF.
Demanding that Muslims condemn ISIS is xenophobic because it implies that they are sympathetic to the terrorist group unless they state otherwise. It implies all Muslims are responsible for the actions of terrorists. And there’s a double-standard because other minorities aren’t held to the same standard.
Yes, I’m aware that British Muslims have gone to fight with ISIS. But we live in a free country and British Mosques can’t stop people from travelling to Syria any more than the police can stop crimes before they happen.
Furthemore, the condemnations are useless, however reassuring they may sound. This is all a charade, like how politicians feel obliged to make a public statement of grief when someone famous dies.
The jihadis at ISIS and their sympathisers already see 99% British Muslim organisations and commentators as apostates. They’re executing religious Shias in Iraq daily – you think they care what the Muslim Council of Britain has to say? They don’t even care for the Muslim Brotherhood.
Lastly, it’s worth noting that most of the victims, and most of those fighting ISIS daily, are Muslims. The image above is of Kurdish soldiers fighting ISIS.
In other words, Muslims are being criticised for not condemning a group that is mostly killing Muslims. It’s ridiculous.
Britain needs a serious discussion about how to counter those people with extreme views here. We also need a discussion of British foreign policy in the Middle East. But asking all Muslims to condemn ISIS does not advance either of those much needed debates, it just illustrates idiocy.
In the Observer today, I debate Nick Cohen on whether the Tricycle Theatre in London was right to ask the UK Jewish film festival to ‘reconsider’ its funding from the Israeli government.
There are two additional points I want to make that I didn’t have the space for.
The slippery slope
Nick Cohen ends by writing:
From George Galloway declaring Bradford an “Israel-free zone” to Islamists in the East End of London raising jihadist flags, a dangerous antisemitic mood is growing. By defending worthless bureaucrats who intimidate a Jewish – not an Israeli but a Jewish – festival because it won’t accept their double standards, you are adding to it – thoughtlessly, I am sure.
My response to him is this:
I think the slippery slope argument is worth keeping in mind, but I don’t think we are there yet. You have been criticised plenty of times for demonising Muslims and contributing towards an Islamophobic atmosphere too, and I’m sure you’ll appreciate the irony.
We can all stand up against racism while rejecting tainted money. I fully condemn Galloway and his ilk, and I believe my voice carries more weight because I also condemn the attacks in Gaza. If the slippery slope argument was carried towards its full logical conclusion every time, then you (Nick Cohen) and others (including myself), would not be allowed to criticise Islamists for fear it would further inflame Islamophobia.
Nick Cohen applies this standard to Jews but not Muslims
‘Asking Jews to take a stance on Israel’
The other key point made by critics of Tricycle is that by asking the UKJFF to reject Israeli funding, Jews as a whole are being take a stance on Israel.
But let’s flip this around. That stance implies we can’t ask Muslim groups to reject Saudi money because that’s asking them all to state their allegiance regarding the Saudis.
It would also mean no Hindu or Indian group could be criticised for taking Indian government money, even though there may be several good reasons in certain circumstances for doing so. Persian groups wouldn’t have to account for Iranian money… and so on.
That would make it near impossible to debate the influence of foreign money because this charge could be raised by almost any ethnic group at any time.
I don’t think Tricycle raised the issue because they wanted all Jews to take a side. It was a legitimate response to the pressure they had given the ongoing conflict.
If I had a penny for every time someone said this to me on Twitter, I’d have bought myself a min-island in the Bermuda by now.
Yes, the United States supports Israel with military aid every year. It also licenses American companies to sell Israel military equipment every year.
But Israel won’t collapse tomorrow if the US cut off their aid. Let’s just go over the numbers to explain.
The United States gave approximately $3.2 Billion to Israel last year. Here’s the breakdown
That includes a sum of $3.1 billion as military aid.
It provides another $504 million in funding: for Israel’s Iron Dome anti-rocket system ($235 million) and the joint US-Israel missile defense systems David’s Sling ($149.7 million)
And there are a few other systems that amount to around $100m. There’s a breakdown here (PDF)
As a proportion of Israeli spending that used to mean a lot – sometimes as much as a quarter of Israel’s defense budget.
It doesn’t any more, primarily because Israel has had a healthy and growing economy. In 2000, Israel GDP was $124.9 Billion. Last year it was more than double that – $291.3 Billion. In comparison, Egypt has a smaller GDP ($271 BN) even though it has 10x the population (more comparison: India’s GDP: $1.8 Trillion; UK $2.5 TR; USA $16.8 TR).
In other words, US military aid to Israel is now worth merely 1% of its GDP. It’s a bonus, not essential money.
The country is doing so well it has more cash than needs, thanks to the recent discovery of gas reserves. It is discussing setting up a sovereign fund and discussing where to invest that surplus.
In fact, this situation has even led some pro-Israelis to call for the military aid to be cut to Israel, on the basis that Israel would then have to rely even less on its ally. They don’t want Israel to be seen as subservient to US interests and clearly think Israel will do just fine without American money.
The point is, US military aid to Israel has largely become an irrelevant factor in this war or the future. Cutting it off won’t hobble Israel. If America abruptly withdraws it over illegal Israeli action, then it may force a change in behaviour but that is a highly unlikely scenario.
A court judgement out this week sheds light on a very under-reported and rarely-discussed problem within South Asian communities in the UK.
In 2007 I reported for BBC Asian Network on women who come to the UK as brides from South Asia, and the potential problems they face. Since many don’t speak English (and are sometimes discouraged from learning it!) – they are more vulnerable to being abused, exploited, beaten or abandoned. One way to help, I argued, was to make it compulsory for them to learn English, so they could more easier seek help when needed and play an active role in British society.
Here are the facts of the case, as laid out in the court judgement. What’s extraordinary about this case is that a British law-firm (Dawson Cornwell) fought on behalf of this woman and won a judgement against the man. I hope it sets a precedent and serves as a warning to other men thinking of abandoning their wives.
* * * * * *
A very young wife was lawfully brought to the United Kingdom, where she was dependent upon her husband and his family, and where she gave birth to a child who has major disabilities. Her husband made little effort to secure for her the immigration status to which she was entitled and when the marriage got into difficulties, she was then sent out of the country with no right to re-enter. The result is that she and her child have been separated for the past three years, a situation that is a wholesale breach of their right to respect for their family life under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
The child, S, was born in 2005 and is nearly 9 years old. He has very severe learning and communication disabilities. His parents are both of Pakistani origin. The father was born in England while the mother came here in June 2002 after an arranged marriage that was celebrated in Pakistan in 2000 when she was around 15 years old.
In December 2012, the father pronounced a talaq. In August 2013, the mother remarried in Pakistan. She says that this marriage was a marriage of convenience. Her father was planning to arrange for her remarriage to a person of his choice and she went through a ceremony of marriage with someone else to prevent this. Her evidence is that she has never lived with this “husband” and has no intention of doing so in future or of bringing him to the United Kingdom.
The mother described several occasions on which the father and his mother would slap and kick her and pull her hair. These did not cause major injury and she did not seek medical treatment or, in general, complain to the authorities. However, on 7 February 2011, she did make a police report and went overnight to a refuge. She explains this as being because the father struck S on that occasion. The father denies any violence whatever.
The judge also writes:
The father’s failure to secure the mother’s immigration status was a gross dereliction of his responsibility towards her and towards S. In his evidence, he claims that he was unaware of her precarious position, having left matters of that kind to his own father. He says that when she left the country in July 2011 he did not know what the position was. I found the father’s evidence incredible and I reject it. He knew perfectly well that if the mother left, she could not return. The reason why the father and his family were so careless of the mother’s position was because it suited them.
Having considered all the evidence on this issue, the judge found that the mother was tricked into going to Pakistan. He also made it easier for her to travel back to the UK and see her son, and forced the father to give her some visitation rights.
Well done on the judge on handling this so well.
It may be that this case also sets a precedent for other ‘stranded’ spouses. As the judge said right at the beginning:
Where one party to a failing marriage has secure immigration status and the other does not, the opportunity arises for the former to exploit the latter’s weakness by taking advantage of immigration controls. This case is a bad, but by no means unique, example of what has come to be known as the stranded spouse.
If you are being affected by this (or other issues like a forced marriage) and need some support, get in touch with Sharan Project
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