Winter of Discontent: Arab Winter

Georgia Lewis

Image © The Advocacy Project

Image © The Advocacy Project

The picture of a woman in Cairo with her abaya torn away by men who do not deserve the respect of a soldier job title has gone global. With her face covered but her blue bra on display, her awful humiliation has gone global largely thanks to Twitter and Facebook, two tools which have played a massive role in disseminating information on the events of the Arab Spring.

She has not been identified but she has become an important symbol of the events in Egypt and the wider Arab world. The role of women, the role of powerful images and the role of social media cannot be underestimated and the blue bra photograph captures all this graphically and shockingly. The photograph also demonstrated that the military is not in any hurry to relinquish power so that the people of Egypt can enjoy a sane and functioning democracy. It also flies in the face of the tired myth that the Arab world is not ready for democracy. Egypt’s military may not be keen to give power to the people but nobody can deny the people want power and are prepared to fight hard for it.  Read more of this post

Christopher Hitchens: A tribute

Steven Akehurst

Image © Paul G

“More Bosnia, less Iraq”. So went a text sent by Christopher Hitchens, who died from cancer last week, to Stephen Fry in late November. Fry was orchestrating a make-shift discussion at the Royal Festival Hall with Hitchens’ more famous friends on his ‘loves and hates’, with Hitch himself following online after falling too ill to participate. As George Eaton noted, at an event which already eerily felt like the dry run of a funeral service, it seemed like Hitchens was trying to edit the first draft of his own obituary.

Alas, to no avail, it would appear from reading much of the reaction since Friday. But if it’s fitting that Hitchens died in the same week as the Iraq war came to a formal end, then it’s no less so that he went in the same week as Vaclav Haval, the great Czech dissident who authored his countries’ overthrow of Communism. For whatever one thinks of his position on Iraq (and I disagree with it), Hitchens leant his vociferous support for the war with the same logic as he did to Haval and intervention in Bosnia, and it must be reckoned with on that basis. Read more of this post

Mission Accomplished?

Andrew Noakes

Image © U.S. Army


Almost ten years on from the 2003 invasion of Iraq, President Obama has fulfilled his 2008 campaign pledge to withdraw US troops from the oil rich country. Last week, he told American soldiers that they could return home with their ‘heads held high.’ For America, now, the Iraq saga is finally over. But for Iraqis, the carnage goes on. As John Simpson tells us, there have been 79 bomb attacks in the last month alone.

Knowing what we know now, it is hard to imagine that the Iraq War could ever have been a success as the Bush administration envisaged it. Since 2003, the country has been gripped by a sectarian civil war; it has become a haven for terrorists; and Iran, meanwhile, has been transformed by the conflict into a regional superpower. And yet, looking back, it seems perfectly obvious that the invasion would have produced these outcomes. Read more of this post

Winter of Discontent: Occupy London should demand greater competition

Five Minute Economist

Image © Andy Roberts

The Occupy London protests are now two months old and still going strong and have established a “Bank of Ideas” in an empty building belonging to UBS. Nice idea. The Occupy protests do have an important message so it is unfortunate that, so far, its main victim has been accidental – the Church of England, which descended into confusion over whether any of the protesters had valid points to make, and if so, did it justify the fact that they were making it difficult to get to the St Paul’s Cathedral gift and coffee shop?

Initial criticism centred around the fact that the protesters’ aims have been vague. According to their website, they are “in agreement that the current system is undemocratic and unjust.” More specific grievances are listed under their “initial statement”, and among other things include: Read more of this post

Queen of Shops reports to the King of our ailing economy

Georgia Lewis

Image © Department of Business, Innovation, and Skills

In the midst of news reports about bumper retail sales in the lead-up to Christmas, albeit thanks largely to heavy discounting, and upsetting stories of people getting into debt in order to have a very materialistic Christmas, Mary Portas released her report on how to save Britain’s high streets. It was a curious mixture of the occasional sensible suggestion and ideas that don’t really take the big picture into account.

Local authorities using discretionary powers to give new businesses concessions on their rates makes sense. Exploring disincentives to prevent landlords leaving shops vacant makes sense. Proactive use of compulsory purchase orders on long-term vacant shops makes sense. Making banks that own empty shops manage them properly or sell them makes sense too.

But other recommendations are, frankly, a little silly. Would removing “unnecessary regulations” so that anyone can trade on the high street unless there is a valid reason not to result in the revival of lively market towns or would high streets attract tat sellers so that our towns will start to resemble an EastEnders street scene? Read more of this post

London or Brussels? Ça ne fait rien

Dominic Turner

Image © harry_nl

In the week that David Cameron returned from Brussels, posturing as the protector of Britain, what is most distressing, albeit predictable, is the reaction of the establishment ‘left.’

Make no mistake, the binary calculus in David Cameron’s mind was: who controls Britain’s economic policy? Bankers in Frankfurt or the bankers in London who bankroll his party? He chose the neighbourhood bully.

But there does exist a Pan-European Austerity agenda. An insane, centralising elite in the death throes of Europe’s most right wing regimes, striking whilst the iron is hot, before the voters of their respective countries throw them out of office. The brazen arrogance of the plutocratic elite of Europe is exhibited in countries like Italy and Greece who are no longer just practically run by the banks (like the UK) but literally governed by ex-bankers who are exacting savage cuts on ordinary people, the receipt for their own bail out. 

 Read more of this post

Tuition Fees: Human Rights and Wrongs


Image © Monika Ciapala

A few weeks ago the Foreign Secretary William Hague, in a speech at the Foreign Office, declared: “As a government we understand how important it is that we not only uphold our values and international law, but that we are seen to do so.

This may have come as a surprise to those who are acquainted with the UN International Covenant on Economic Cultural and Social Rights. The Covenant, signed by the UK, states in Article 13 that: “Higher education shall be made equally accessible to all, on the basis of capacity, by every appropriate means, and in particular by the progressive introduction of free education.”

The UK Government appeared puzzled by this and, in a submission to the UN Committee in 2007, wondered:

whether this paragraph is intended to mean equal access to higher education by: (i) the progressive introduction of free higher education, OR (ii) the progressive introduction of free education up until the point at which higher education commences. The Government’s position on financial provision for higher education students would conflict with interpretation (i) because the Government does not provide free higher education. However, higher education is equally accessible to all in the UK on the basis that fees are not charged at the outset but paid by means of loans at a later stage in the student’s life. If interpretation (i) is correct, the Government believes other State parties (such as Australia and New Zealand) would also have problems with the implementation of Article 13(2)(c). Read more of this post

Demanding an End to World Hunger

Mohammed Mesbahi

All the commentary from expert analysts about the crumbling financial system is almost useless to understand what is really happening in the world today. Countless articles are written about how to fix the economy and restore growth to the system, but they are only relevant to a system that was never sustainable and is now coming to an end. What we call the ‘system’ has become so complicated that it appears to have a life of its own, and not even the most sophisticated banker understands what is going on anymore. Few economists or politicians speak in terms that mean anything to the ordinary person who is struggling to find or keep a job, make ends meet and provide for their family. But at the same time, something profoundly new is happening throughout the world that requires a much simpler way of looking at things if we are to comprehend what it means.

The protests now taking place in almost every country are a magnificent sight, but we must look closely at what it means when we cry for justice. There are many stories now being reported about the accumulating wealth of the richest people in the midst of a worsening economic crisis, which of course leads to rightful anger against bankers and the unbridled greed that has been sanctified in modern-day society. But which is the greater sin: the banker’s bonus, or the fact that thousands of people are dying from hunger each day in a world of plenty? The global economy is sinking and so the people’s voice is rising, but why are there no demonstrations in our city squares when people are dying from hunger? Read more of this post

DVLA Management: Putting the Con in Consultation

Stampy Pete

Image © James HaleyDriver and Vehicle Licensing Agency (DVLA) staff may have spent the last 16 years living with the looming spectre of redundancy but now, for local office workers at least, it’s about to become a reality.  The government’s plan to make over 1,200 people redundant over the next 24 months is ostensibly subject to a period of public consultation, but DVLA workers used to dealing with oily Agency management are already resigned to losing their jobs.

The DVLA is based in Swansea but operates a national network of 39 offices serving the public and the motor trade, mainly carrying out vehicle licensing and registration transfers.   The local offices also deal with more complicated casework including the registration of imports, kit-cars, and historic vehicles.  They are the first point of contact for the motoring public and the trade and also provide vital criminal intelligence to the police and other agencies.  The DVLA’s plan is to make these offices redundant by centralising operations at the Swansea H.Q and putting other services online.  Read more of this post

Ten international relationships the UK must develop

Mike Morgan-Giles

Image © Foreign and Commonwealth Office

Following the Prime Minister’s decision to veto the proposed EU Treaty last week, which has put the UK in the slow lane within a two speed Europe, it’s important the Government looks to develop our other international relationships. Here are ten they should move forward:

  1. BRIC nations – Brazil, Russia, India and China are vast growing markets that we must look to enhance our ties with. Each can be approached in a different way, with perhaps closer links to Brazil on sustainability, energy cooperation with Russia, major trade links with India and offering cash-rich China unbeatable investment opportunities.
  1. Scandinavia – They share some of the euro-scepticism often cited in the UK; Norway isn’t an EU member, whilst Sweden and Denmark stand outside the eurozone. Ties can be strengthened over issues such as fishing and energy policy – for instance by creating a shared super grid. A more ambitious move would be to create an informal Northern European group, including all of the Nordic countries. Read more of this post