Northern Ireland attracting more notice in UK elections

In a further sign that the typically marginal Northern Ireland members of the United Kingdom parliament might increasingly play a “coalition kingmaker” role after the breakdown of the three-party system in London, the UK Labour Party is relaxing its policy against competing in Northern Ireland constituencies.

That policy was originally adopted back when the party wanted to remain a neutral mediator in the Northern Ireland conflict over British/unionist or Irish/independence alignment (and forcing people to identify with a UK party based in Britain would inherently not be neutral). Now, an official satellite party (like Scottish Labour) will formally open in Northern Ireland, but with the extra wrinkle that it will also be a satellite of the Irish Labour Party, from neighboring Ireland.

The aim of this complex, multi-country fusion is probably eventually to help Labour in overall UK elections while still not demanding unionist allegiance from members. In the past, Labour’s general economic views have been represented in Westminster for Northern Ireland voters most closely by the tiny SDLP, but the SDLP was not part of Labour governments. Membership in UK Labour wasn’t even opened in Northern Ireland until 2004.

Map of UK general election results in Northern Ireland by constituency for 2005 and 2010 (via Wikipedia). NI Sinn Féin does not occupy its seats under current policy, due to opposition to the union's control of Northern Ireland.

Map of UK general election results in Northern Ireland by constituency for 2005 and 2010 (via Wikipedia). NI Sinn Féin does not occupy its seats under current policy, due to opposition to the union’s control of Northern Ireland.

UK Labour’s counterpart party from the Republic of Ireland (a completely independent nation-state, of course), Irish Labour, is a rather small party in the Oireachtas (Ireland’s parliament) but very often serves as a junior coalition partner and is currently actually the second largest by representation.

Labour propose tax avoidance crackdown, Tories balk

Despite recent backlash from big business and finance firms and lobbies, Labour are pushing ahead with a leftward shift to crack down on corporate abuses, according to The Financial Times. In addition to charging that Conservatives have “totally failed” to take sufficient action on tax avoidance loopholes generally, Labour wants to target British tax havens:

On Friday [February 6, 2015], Ed Miliband, Labour’s leader, announced plans to put the UK’s offshore financial centres on a tax haven blacklist if they did not comply with a new transparency measures. But the plan was attacked as unworkable by [Chancellor] Osborne, who seized on it as further evidence that the Labour leader was “unfit to be prime minister”.

 
Grand_Cayman_IslandWell, I don’t know about that, Mr. Osborne, but it seems like trying to do something about the problem of offshore UK/crown tax havens (full story➚) is better than doing nothing. This is, after all, creating a lot of problems for other countries (see previous link), and British governments have repeatedly pledged to the international community to rein them in — and has singularly failed to do so.

It will be interesting to see if Labour are willing to hold fast to their new position on corporate abuses — fully reasonable and sufficiently moderated positions, in my view — until the May elections or if they bend to pressure to be blindly (and fearfully) “pro-business,” as they arguably were in much of the “New Labour” years.

I say “interesting,” because I have a strong suspicion that the outcome of the internal Labour debate — between its working-class/progressive base and its City of London finance types — could prefigure the coming 2016 debates (if we have any) in the U.S. Democratic Party about whether to run on “middle class economics” or in Wall Street’s pocket.

There are certainly a lot of very clear parallels here, given the similarly outsized roles “The City” and Wall Street have taken on in both countries’ economies and politics, along with the controversial transformations of the New Democrats and New Labour led by Bill Clinton and Tony Blair respectively in the 1990s. While it may have worked in the short run, it has caused a great deal of problems for both parties in the longer run.

Moreover, in both countries, the center-left parties find themselves quickly abandoned by their respective financial districts for the conservatives — the natural home of Big Finance — when the winds change. Meanwhile, the under-served natural economic base of Labour and the Democrats drifts angrily, staying home on election day or seeking solace in fringe parties.

There is, of course, one other linkage of interest here. The tax evasion/avoidance problem — combined with various recent banking scandals — have given a new meaning to the phrase “special relationship” between the United States and the United Kingdom, given how often City and Wall Street firms seem to be tangled up in it together.

February 11, 2015 – Arsenal For Democracy 116

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Topics: Mike Pence’s failed state media outlet, Nigeria elections postponement, UK elections early predictions. People: Bill, Nate. Produced: February 10th, 2015.

Discussion Points:

– Is Indiana’s short-lived state media outlet a harbinger of even more challenges for local journalism?
– What does the postponement of Nigeria’s elections mean for the country’s democracy?
– UK: What could a Labour-SNP coalition mean for Britain? What effect will the centrality of UKIP’s talking points have on the campaign?

Episode 116 (52 min)
AFD 116

Related links
Segment 1

AFD: Pence’s Pravda
Indianapolis Star: Pence starts state-run news outlet to compete with media
Fort Wayne News-Sentinel: Indiana Governor Mike Pence scraps plan for state-run news website

Segment 2

AFD: Nigeria military forces elections to be postponed
BBC: Nigeria election: Five questions about delay

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And don’t forget to check out The Digitized Ramblings of an 8-Bit Animal, the video blog of our announcer, Justin.

The Questions Posed by the World’s 2015 Elections

15 national elections I’m watching on 2015 and the questions I’m asking about them, organized in chronological order.

voting

Greece: Can modern Greek democracy survive the combined effects of years of extraordinary fiscal mismanagement, a devastating recession, and a sudden day of reckoning (austerity) stage-managed from Berlin? That’s the bigger question the world is asking when Greece heads to the polls this coming weekend, behind narrow questions of what might happen in the next six months. Newcomer “Syriza” – a party with moderate rhetoric, yet still an unknown quantity – has led the polling average since November 2013, more than a year before snap elections were called. Syriza could shake things up — for good or ill — in the country whose ancestors founded much of Western democracy. On the other hand, the ancient Greeks also formalized the concepts of “oligarchy,” “aristocracy,” and “tyranny,” so that’s not a huge comfort. Modern Greek democracy is just 40 years old, and Plato might forecast a turn to a less participatory form of The Kyklos (the cycle of governance between such forms) is about due. The rise of the neo-Nazi “Golden Dawn” as a potent force in Greek politics offers that grim path.

Nigeria: Should a young democracy re-elect a civilian president from the same party that has won every election since 1998? Should it do so despite his record of extreme incompetence in handling an insurgency that has now seized more territory than ISIS controls in Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy? What if the alternative choice is a former military dictator and perennial also-ran? These are the basic questions facing Nigerians in February’s election that will see once-accidental President Goodluck Jonathan of the People’s Democratic Party face off against Gen. Muhammadu Buhari at the head of an increasingly powerful opposition coalition and amid plunging oil prices. The legislative chambers are also up for election. Even if Jonathan is re-elected, he may face a hostile majority.

Israel: Can the Israeli left make a serious comeback in the country’s politics after Israel voters increasingly veered to the right and after significant party changes shattered the Labor Party for almost a decade? Would it make any difference to Israel’s relations with its neighbors and the world at large? Would it change the economic fortunes of average Israelis?

United Kingdom: Is the Westminster System — as it has traditionally existed in its tripartite form since the arrival of universal male suffrage — finished in Westminster itself? UKIP, the Scottish National Party, and other parties outside the Big Three make another coalition government of some kind almost a certainty – likely with huge effects for the British populace and their place within the European Union.

Mexico: Will the insulated Federal District finally be shaken out of its slumber by a growing protest movement and other reactions to the total capture of Mexican state and local government by the cartels? The Congress is up for election, but without a sea change in the foreign-focused Peña Nieto administration, few expect serious policy shifts at home, whatever the outcome of the midterms. Still, nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition any more than they expect a spontaneous mass uprising that forces just such a sea change. Could be too early to tell.
Read more

The Globalist | Political Courage: Merkel Vs. Cameron

The following originally appeared in The Globalist.

In politics, doing the right thing should be done for its own sake, not for tactical reasons.

At the start of the New Year, the world leader who deserves praise in this regard is German Chancellor Angela Merkel. In the face of rising anti-Islamic protests in her country – a Dresden hate rally on December 22, 2014 reached a record 17,500 people – she chose to condemn the protests directly in her New Year’s speech.

“There is no place here for stirring up hatred and telling lies about people who have come to us from other countries,” she said.

Merkel added that the protest leaders had “prejudice, coldness or even hatred in their hearts” and observed that their clever rhetoric masks an ugly message that “You don’t belong, because of the color of your skin, or your religion.”

A spokesperson for the Chancellor followed up this pronouncement with the following statement:

“In Germany, there is no place for stirring up hatred against believers, for propaganda against religions of any sort, no place for right-wing extremism, and no place for xenophobia. The entire German government is united in its condemnation of any such thing.”

 
Lest readers believe this was an easy course of action requiring little thought, consider that a new poll by Forsa for Stern magazine. It found that 13% of Germans would attend an anti-Muslim rally in their own community — and 29% believed the rallies were justified.

Cameron’s response

Contrast Ms. Merkel’s determination in the face of a rising tide of xenophobic hate with Prime Minister David Cameron’s positioning. All that he has mustered is a weak rejection, even uncomfortable accommodation, of Britain’s mounting xenophobia and anti-immigrant views in the political sphere and general population.

Mr. Cameron has cowered before the growing power of UKIP and his own party’s more distasteful right wing, as the anti-outside-world politicians in Britain have surged to victories in the EU elections and parliamentary by-elections.

Conclusion

Chancellor Merkel deserves praise for standing fast against political extremism, anti-immigrant activists and anti-Muslim sentiments. Other elected global leaders would do well to learn from her example in the New Year’s speech and actually lead on this issue in 2015.

Pictured: Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, May 2012, watching a Chelsea vs. Munich soccer match during the G8 summit. (White House Photo)

Pictured: Prime Minister David Cameron, President Barack Obama, and Chancellor Angela Merkel, May 2012, watching a Chelsea vs. Munich soccer match during the G8 summit. (White House Photo)


Additional note for clarity, for non-Globalist readers: Read more

Britain, Back to Bahrain

Nearly four and a half decades after withdrawing from its protectorate in August 1971 and turning over its naval base to the United States Navy, the United Kingdom has decided to return to Bahrain with a new permanent base for Persian Gulf activities.

Bahrain, a small oil-producing island nation in the Persian Gulf with a little over twice the land area of the City of Las Vegas, is the permanent home of the U.S. Navy’s 5th Fleet and U.S. Naval Forces Central Command. The country is much smaller but almost as populous as neighboring Qatar (the Gulf’s power-hitting, influential media hub and state terror sponsor.) Bahrain upgrade itself from an emirate to a kingdom back in 2002 and had repeatedly introduced pseudo-democracy without true reforms.

Back a few years ago, during the early 2011 failed Arab Spring uprising in the capital of Bahrain, suppressed eventually with the help of Saudi/UAE Gulf Cooperation Council troops, there was a lot of concern (probably correctly) that the United States was declining to get involved — in any capacity — because of its military base in the country. (And probably also because the protesters were likely somewhat aligned with Iran.)

But there is an a far, far longer history of support for violent autocracy in Bahrain by the United Kingdom. And that might be exactly what’s going on now. Former UK Ambassador to the United Nations, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, commended Britain for re-establishing a permanent military presence in Bahrain with the following explanation:

“It will also make it more difficult for some internal cell in Bahrain or UAE or wherever to think they can have a go at the local government if they see some highly trained and capable people standing alongside the government”

 
In other words, Greenstock believes this military presence will be vital to protect the repressive minority Sunni monarchy of Bahrain from its own population, which is majority Shia.

The unpopular ruling family of Bahrain — originally hailing from southern Iraq in the 18th century — was first explicitly propped up by Britain in an 1868 treaty, after which the British Empire repeatedly suppressed uprisings against the ruling minority. With the discovery of major oil reserves, this became even more important to the British government.

After the 1971 independence agreement (and the base transfer to the United States), the United States has absorbed the role of de facto protector of the ruling family, via extensive heavy arms sales and turning a blind eye during the repeated suppression of protests and uprisings happening just beyond its base perimeter.

Now Bahrain’s rulers can count on not one but two major Western military powers to have their back, in addition to support from Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

Map of Bahrain (Credit: CIA World Factbook)

Map of Bahrain (Credit: CIA World Factbook)

The Incomprehensible David Cameron

David Cameron must have actually lost his mind. In the middle of all the sanctions, he just loaned one of the Elgin Marbles to Russia, further infuriating Greece (from whom they were originally, famously stolen) after Greece loyally backed up the rest of the European Union (and NATO) on anti-Russia policies this year.

It’s one thing to petulantly insist on keeping the British Museum’s stolen artifacts from the Parthenon. It’s quite another to loan them out to an active enemy country in a taunt to one’s ally.

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)

Surviving figures from the East Pediment of the Parthenon, exhibited as part of the Elgin Marbles in the British Museum. (Credit: Andrew Dunn)