PolLaw Express: 30th July edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

(This is the last daily news round-up for a time, as I will be going on holiday tomorrow morning. See you on the 10th August!)


1. British forces illegally detained Afghan suspect, Court of Appeal rules (via The Guardian)
~ The Court of Appeal today ruled that an Afghan suspect was detained illegally by British forces for almost four months and denied access to a lawyer.

Serdar Mohammed, who was captured by UK soldiers in April 2010, was not handed over to the Afghan security services until July that year – this was despite regulations requiring any transfer to take place within 96 hours. Mohammed has since claimed that the Afghan authorities tortured him.

The case highlights the effect of UK forces overseas being subject to the European Convention on Human Rights, rather than the Geneva Conventions on warfare. It is a legal position on which the judges involved – the Lord Chief Justice, Lord Thomas, Lord Justice Lloyd Jones and Lord Justice Beaston – expressed misgivings.

In their judgment, they referred to their:

‘significant reservations in respect of the correctness of the decision extending the ECHR to the battlefield as established by the decision of the Strasbourg court in [the case of ] Al-Skeini. We are, however, bound by the decision of the supreme court in Smith v MoD, which applies the decision in Al-Skeini.

‘Difficult questions, both legal and practical, will undoubtedly arise as to how the ECHR protections, designed to regulate the domestic exercise of state power, are to be applied in the very different context of extraterritorial military operations.’

Regardless of this, the three judges went on to state that :

‘The arrangements made by the Secretary of State in relation to the deployment of HM armed forces to Afghanistan, and for the detention of those engaged in attacking HM armed forces did not enable persons to be detained by HM armed forces for longer than 96 hours….

‘[Mohammed’s] claim succeeds because the Secretary of State is unable to show a lawful basis for the detention.’

Mohammed is now seeking damages for his unlawful detention.


2. David Cameron criticised over migrant ‘swarm’ language (via BBC News)
~ Prime Minister David Cameron has been criticised for his description of migrants trying to reach Britain as a ‘swarm’.

When asked about the latest Calais crisis, he spoke of ‘a swarm of people coming across the Mediterranean, seeking a better life, wanting to come to Britain’.

In the latest crisis to strike Calais, hundreds of migrants tried to enter the Channel Tunnel overnight. Thousands of migrants have been trying to reach the UK from Calais this week, with nine people killed attempting to cross the Channel in the past month.

Acting Labour leader Harriet Harman said in a statement that the Prime Minister ‘should remember he is talking about people and not insects’ and called the use of ‘divisive’ language a ‘worrying turn’.

The UN Special Representative for International Migration accused British politicians of adopting a ‘xenophobic response’ to the migrants crisis and said their the language had been ‘grossly excessive’.

This is in addition to criticism from the Refugee Council, which works with refugees in the UK, said his comments were ‘irresponsible’ and ‘dehumanising’. It added:

‘This sort of rhetoric is extremely inflammatory and comes at a time when the Government should be focused on working with its European counterparts to respond calmly and compassionately to this dreadful humanitarian crisis.’


3. Calais migrant crisis: Cameron warns UK is ‘no safe haven’ (via BBC News)
~ In addition to the above news story, we have another one.

David Cameron has warned that the UK will not become a ‘safe haven’ for migrants in Calais, after hundreds continued their attempts to cross from France.

The Prime Minister warned that illegal immigrants would be removed, as migrants told the BBC they remained determined to reach the UK.

Mr Cameron was speaking after people gathered for a third night at fencing at the Channel Tunnel freight terminal. Over 3,500 attempts have been made this week to get into the tunnel.

This comes as new fencing supplied by the UK government is being installed in Calais and Eurotunnel said it would protect the platform area where vehicles are loaded on to the train shuttles.

Kent Police has for the first time asked for neighbouring forces to provide officers to help in the policing of Operation Stack – where lorries wait on the M20 in the county when Channel crossings are disrupted.

Highways England said there were nearly 6,000 lorries parked on the motorway as part of Operation Stack, which will continue into the weekend.


4. Labour leadership: Beware the muddled huddle (via BBC News)
~ This is simply an interesting little article courtesy of Mark Mardell about the ongoing Labour leadership contest.

Mr Mardell notes that he cannot ‘help noting that the Labour leadership has been having an attack of the vapours.’

He goes on to make several interesting points about the aftermath of the recent General Election and the consequence for Labour:

Complacency is never wise, but perhaps a bit of perspective is valuable.

We may be at a critical break point, but we may not. Democratic politics tends to go in cycles.

After a longish time in government, which ends in defeat and disappointment, it takes a while for the electorate to trust that party again.

He concludes on an intriguing note:

Cameron won the centre ground of competence – Ed Miliband was seen as extreme, but not because of the mansion tax.

He was seen as extremely unlikely to be a good prime minister.

Elections are won in the centre ground – but that means shared perceptions of competence and charisma, hopes and fears, not a nauseating mixture of Marmite and marmalade.

You can also read this article from The News Statesmen; it wearily bemoans the calibre of the leadership candidates, asking ‘where are the giants?’

Look out for this paragraph:

Small wonder that Tory MPs went off for the summer recess with a spring in their step. One minister I spoke to before the House adjourned said, ‘The only question for Labour in 2020 is the scale of our victory over them.’


5. Hillary Clinton Losing Strength in New National Polling (via Time)
~ Just six weeks after announcing her candidacy, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers are continuing to fall, according to a new Quinnipiac University poll that was released on Thursday.

Across nearly every key metric, whether it is from trustworthiness to caring about voters to leadership, Clinton has seen an evident decrease in public approval, as likely Republican rivals have erased her leads in the poll. Clinton has a net -11 favourability rating in the poll, with some 40% of the American public viewing her positively and 51% negatively, with more than 50% of independents on the negative side.

If the election were held today, Clinton would be tied with former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker in the poll—down from significant leads in a May 28 survey—but would top the current GOP frontrunner Donald Trump.

Speaking of Donald Trump, you can read the POLITICO take on the poll here.

POLITICO states how Trump’s strength in the aforementioned poll comes primarily from male voters; he has around 24 percent of the vote among men. Yet surprisingly, he also leads among female voters, with 15 percent of the vote to Bush’s 12 percent and Walker’s 9 percent.

POLITICO does wryly add that the poll was conducted between the 23rd – 28th July, prior to the controversial statements by Trump’s attorney about an incident in which Trump’s ex-wife accused Trump of assaulting her, and entirely before The New York Times reported Trump had called a female attorney deposing him “disgusting” for asking to take a break so that she could use a breast pump.


To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?

I will be away on holiday (ahoj, Prague!) from this Friday 31st July to Saturday 8th August. PolLaw Express daily news round-ups will therefore not be posted during these dates, and will resume on Monday 10th August.

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Of summer sun and reading fun.

Hello all,

Following on from my last blog post relating to summer reading, where I mentioned that I was eagerly awaiting a delivery from Postscript books – look what recently arrived!

To say I am rather excited to get tucked into the above is an understatement. I am most certainly set with summer reading. I would strongly encourage you to look at Postscript’s website; it offers a wonderful variety of books at great prices – which I appreciate as a student. (Me, poor student, my library is dukedom enough.)

My fabulous delivery box was crammed with the following:

  • Who Governs Britain, Anthony King – Professor King examines the modern British political system and its transformation over time. Being as fascinated with politics as I am, I could not help but purchase this book, especially after the results of the recent General Election. You can read the synopsis here and The Telegraph’s review here (it references In The Loop, what isn’t to love?)
  • The Hugo Young Papers, Hugo Young – Hugo Young was one the most influential and respected political journalists in the UK. For decades,  he talked off record to politicians from every party and recorded everything that had been said. This book is a selection of those confidential notes and offers a wonderful and compelling insight into the corridors of power in both politics and the press. You can read The Guardian’s review of the book here.
  • Injustice on Appeal – The United States Courts of Appeals in Crisis, William M. Richman and William L. Reynolds – This books documents how in the last forty years, there has been a dramatic increase in the caseload of the US Court of Appeals. It discusses how this and a systemic resistance to an increased judgeship have led to a crisis. I was always interested in the US justice system, and after studying abroad in America this interest merely increased. You can read the synopsis here.

As I am currently packing for my holiday, I am internally debating over which books to bring. Maybe I will end up with a suitcase full of books in lieu of clothes…

Until next time, adieu!

I will be away on holiday (ahoj, Prague!) from this Friday 31st July to Saturday 8th August. 

PolLaw Express: 29th July edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

(There were technical difficulties yesterday evening which prevented me from fully completing this post, and as I did not wish to post a half-complete post, I deferred until today.)


1. Review begins into benefits for drug and alcohol addicts (via BBC News)
~ A new review could result in those suffering from drug and alcohol addiction losing their sickness benefits if they refuse treatment.

Medical expert Dame Carol Black will examine the support given to addicts – and obese people – on sickness benefits to ‘better support them in work’.

Prime Minister David Cameron, who ordered the review, says there is currently no requirement for such groups to undertake treatment and suggested that this could change.

The idea of requiring drug users to seek treatment or lose their benefits was first suggested by the last Labour government – although it was not adopted following a consultation. During the last Parliament, the Conservatives floated extending the concept of sanctions to those with serious alcohol conditions and the clinically obese but the idea was not pursued by the coalition government.

While support and treatment would continue to be provided for everyone, the Prime Minister has said the system has to consider what to do when addicts simply refused help and expected taxpayers to continue funding their benefits.

This follows his comments in February 2015 at the launch of the review:

 ‘Some [people] have drug or alcohol problems, but refuse treatment.

‘In other cases people have problems with their weight that could be addressed – but instead a life on benefits rather than work becomes the choice.

‘It is not fair to ask hard-working taxpayers to fund the benefits of people who refuse to accept the support and treatment that could help them get back to a life of work.’


2. Tim Farron unveils his Lib Dem front bench team (via BBC News)
~ The new Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron has unveiled his team of spokespeople, and interestingly former leader and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has turned down a role.

Mr Farron said this was an ‘excellent’ team which would lead the ‘Lib Dem fight back’. The former party president was recently elected as the new leader of the Liberal Democrats on 16th July, beating rival Norman Lamb with 56.5% of the votes cast. Lamb has been appointed the Health brief by Farron.

In a statement, the new Lib Dem leader said the new team ‘is the Liberal voice that Britain desperately needs’.

The contest was sparked by Clegg’s resignation after the party’s virtual wipe-out at the 7th May General Election, which saw the Lib Dems reduced to merely eight MPs.

(I will soon have a brief post about Tim Farron online: keep your eyes peeled for it.)


3. Basingstoke Green Party job-share MP candidates refused judicial review (via BBC News)
~ If it involves judicial review, I’m on it, and this story is no exception. I remember watching Sarah Cope speaking on the Daily Politics programme and thought whilst job-sharing MPs was an intriguing notion, I doubted that her and Ms Phipps’ application for judicial review would succeed.

The Green Party candidates at the recent General Election, Sarah Cope and Clare Phipps  have been refused a judicial review over their plans to become job-share MPs.  They had previously had their nomination to stand as MPs in Basingstoke rejected by the returning officer before May’s General Election.

They appeared at the High Court in London in a bid to overturn the returning officer’s decision – but were refused.

Ms Cope said they wanted to change the culture of Westminster where ‘over 450 of the 650 MPs in Parliament are men’. The two candidates had planned to share one seat in a job-sharing capacity, as Ms Cope is the main carer for two young children and Ms Phipps suffers from a disability.

The acting returning officer rejected their nomination as invalid because two people were seeking election in one seat. Whilst Ms Cope and Ms Phipps had argued the rejection breached both human rights and equality laws, Mr Justice Wilkie however ruled that the returning officer’s decision was ‘unarguably correct’ and dismissed their application.

Ms Cope has stated previously that

‘We need to change the culture of Westminster and stop wasting so much untapped talent. Allowing MPs to job-share is a relatively minor change which could bring about huge benefits.’

Counsel for the Green Party members said this application was not an attempt to overturn the re-election of Maria Miller, who had won the Basingstoke seat in the general election.

(Speaking of the Greens, anyone else remember this car-crash interview on LBC radio by party leader Natalie Bennett?)


4. Northern Ireland government teetering, Gerry Adams warns David Cameron (via The Belfast Telegraph)
~A story from my neck of the woods which raises the importance of devolution in the UK.

Gerry Adams, the President of the Sinn Fein party, used the 10th anniversary of the IRA formal end of its armed campaign to warn the Prime Minister that Stormont is facing collapse due to his austerity policies.

 The Executive has been in crisis mode for many months due to a bitter row over implementing welfare reforms, which were vetoed in the Assembly by nationalists. (You can read the 28th July PolLaw Express post for some background to this; see number four on the list.)
Adams said during his speech that the end of the IRA campaign a decade ago ‘broke the long cycle of conflict and opened up new political possibilities’ in Northern Ireland.

However, he went on to state:

‘But the progress that was made over many years is now in severe jeopardy, not least because of the attitude of Mr Cameron…The political structures negotiated so painstakingly as part of the Good Friday Agreement face collapse as a result of the British Government’s ideologically driven austerity agenda.

‘By slashing hundreds of millions of pounds from the finances of the North’s Executive, the British Government has attacked the ability of the political institutions to deliver for citizens.’

The political stalemate between the Unionist and Nationalist parties in the Assembly and the resulting inertia is ongoing.


5. Should Londonderry be renamed Derry? Thousands sign petitions as battle heats up (via The Belfast Telegraph)
~ Symbolism is alive and kicking in Northern Ireland courtesy of our history, so this story should not come as a surprise.

Thousands of people have signed rival petitions as controversy over the proposed renaming of Londonderry to Derry increases.

 A campaign by Sinn Fein and other Nationalists to change the official name and drop references to London has been branded sectarian and divisive by Unionists, who lauded historic connections to ‘one of the world’s great cities’.
Yet more than 3,000 people have so far supported the change, claiming that the name Londonderry caused social and political problems, especially in reminding victims of atrocities in a city scarred by the Troubles and Bloody Sunday, when British troops killed civil rights protesters.
The London prefix was added when the city was granted a Royal Charter by King James I in 1613. In 1984, the name of the nationalist-controlled council was changed from Londonderry to Derry City Council. The city itself continues to be officially known as Londonderry, but is locally referred to as Derry.In 2007 a High Court judge ruled that only legislation or royal prerogative could change the city’s name.

Sinn Fein has said its proposal, supported by the council, was not about airbrushing London from the history of the city, but about ensuring it had a clear brand and single name.

The call for renaming is due to be considered by Environment Minister Mark H Durkan (of the SDLP) in the power-sharing Executive at Stormont.

6. Tsipras threatens rebels as Syriza risks split (via Politico EU)
~ Another day, another series of political problems in Greece.

Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras threatened hardline dissenters in Syriza with early elections if they decide to deprive him of a parliamentary majority, further highlighting a rift within the left-wing party that could endanger Greece’s reluctant drive for reforms. The left-wing party has called for an emergency meeting on Thursday 30th July.

Tsipras, who was elected for a four-year term in January, managed to push unpopular austerity reforms through Parliament — the condition for Greece’s third bailout package in five years — thanks partly to support from pro-euro opposition parties. Yet nearly 40 of his own 149 members of Parliament refused to support the measures.

Mr Tsipras can still find some positives, however. Despite accepting an agreement that contradicts the anti-austerity referendum which he won in early July, the Prime Minister is still steadfastly popular with the Greek public, having recorded a 61 percent approval rating in a recent poll.

Speaking on the Greek radio station Sto Kokkino on Wednesday, Tsipras said:

‘I would be the last person to want elections, if I had the secured parliamentary majority to make it through to the end of the four-year term…But if I don’t have a parliamentary majority, we will be forced to go to elections.’

If elections were to be held immediately, according to a recent poll conducted by Palmos Analysis, Tsipras’ party would win 42.5 percent of the vote- and putting it far ahead of conservative New Democracy and other rivals.

However, an election campaign would create further instability just as the economy emerges from the constrictions of capital controls and thereby increasing speculation about a Grexit from the Eurozone.

(You can read my thoughts on the latest bailout here.)


To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?

I will be away on holiday (ahoj, Prague!) from this Friday 31st July to Saturday 8th August. PolLaw Express daily news round-ups will therefore not be posted during these dates, and will resume on Monday 10th August.

PolLaw Express: 28th July edition

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

(A brief apology for not posting a news round-up for both the 24th and for the 27th; I was spending time with friends and family.)


1. Trump thinks immigrants are rapists. What about married American men? (via The Guardian)
~ Special counsel for the Trump Organisation, Michael Cohen, has made remarks which even has his boss Trump, a 2016 hopeful, recoiling.

Michael Cohen made the comments as he responded to a reporter’s questions regarding a decades-old rape accusation against the aspiring GOP Presidential hopeful Trump – he seemingly made the claim that marital rape is legal.

After a reporter from the Daily Beast asked Cohen about Ivana Trump’s claim in a divorce deposition that Trump raped her in 1989, Cohen stated the following:

You’re talking about the frontrunner for the GOP, presidential candidate, as well as a private individual who never raped anybody. And, of course, understand by the very definition, you can’t rape your spouse. It’s true, you cannot rape your spouse. And there’s very clear case law.

Well, no, actually. As The Guardian article explains, the law is clear – just not in the way that Cohen thinks. Marital rape has been illegal in every state since 1993, and was made illegal in New York – where Trump and this then-wife lived during the alleged incident – in 1984.

Following on from his controversial comments in relation to immigration, specifically Mexicans as being rapists, this is not going to aid Trump in his PR campaign. It will also further infuriate and exasperate in equal measure the Republican Party, who are concerned Trump may cost them votes from the core Latino electorate.

For those interested, martial rape was rendered illegal in the UK in 1991 when the House of Lords (as the highest appellate court was then called) overturned the matrimonial exception to rape in R v R [1991] 3 WLR 767.


2. Cameron clean-up plan won’t stop dirty money, says critics (via BBC News)
~ Prime Minister David Cameron’s plans to crack down on the use of ‘dirty money’ to buy UK property have been criticised by tax and property experts.

The Land Registry in England and Wales will from later this year have to publish the names of all property owners, according to the Prime Minister’s announcements.

Cameron insisted the measures could make a real difference, saying that:

‘We need to stop corrupt officials or organised criminals using anonymous shell companies to invest their ill-gotten gains in London property.’

According to Transparency International, £122bn of property in England and Wales is owned by offshore companies.

Until now, there has only been an obligation to publish details of the legal owners of a property – who can be trustees.

But experts say the change will do little to help catch criminals. One expert, offshore tax expert Mark Davies claims that ‘there is a ridiculous presumption that criminals follow the rules.’


3. Campaign calls for children’s ‘right to be forgotten’ (via BBC News)
~ A campaign to promote the idea that children should be able to delete their online past has been launched.

iRights‘ includes proposals such as the right for young people to be able to easily edit or delete content they have created and published online. The iRights framework is intended to inspire businesses to work with the government on better protecting and empowering young people in terms of their online activity.

Baroness Shields, the UK’s Minister for Internet Safety and Security, is backing the move.

A report by the Children’s Commissioner for England examining the rights will be published by the end of the year.

As well as supporting children’s “right to be forgotten”, iRights says young people have a right to digital literacy and should be well-informed about how their data might be used.


4. Stormont crisis: Theresa Villiers and Martin McGuinness in US talks (via BBC News)
~ Northern Ireland’s Secretary of State and Deputy First Minister are undertaking separate visits to the US in order to brief the US government about the Stormont crisis.

Speaking in advance of their trips, they proposed very different solutions.

Deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness said he would be asking US officials to help convince the UK government to take a new approach to welfare funding.

Yet Secretary of State Theresa Villiers will say those blocking welfare reform are putting more strain on the budget.

Mr McGuinness travelled to Washington on Monday while Ms Villiers will begin a three-day visit to the US on Tuesday.

These visits are following on from the ongoing issue over welfare reform and the Northern Ireland Assembly’s failure to implement reforms demanded by the UK Treasury.

The Stormont House Agreement had originally been signed by Northern Ireland’s five main political parties in December 2014, and was a wide-ranging deal that addressed some of Stormont’s current financial difficulties, after a reduction in its block grant from Westminster. The current problems faced by Stormont are a result of McGuinness’ Sinn Féin party withdrawing its support for the bill this March because of a row over the implementation of welfare reforms.


5. EU ‘good’ at problem solving says UK commissioner (via BBC News)
~The European Union is ‘very effective’ at solving problems, Britain’s top official in Brussels has said, amid reports that it is becoming more receptive to UK demands over its membership.

Lord Hill has said the EU values the UK’s contribution and wanted it to stay in, but admitted that the government had still to table its specific demands.

Ministers have also refused to be drawn on when a referendum will be held.

This comes following Chancellor George Osborne’s meetings with French counterparts this Monday, which marked a new phase in the process of renegotiating the UK’s membership. These renegotiations, as commenced by David Cameron this May following his General Election win, are the precursor to a referendum which will take place by the end of 2017.

The chancellor mainly spoke of a ‘win-win’ agreement to ensure the UK and other non-Eurozone countries were treated fairly in the event of deeper economic and political integration in the single currency area.

Lord Hill commented that:

‘The point about the way the EU works is that if the politics dictates one to go in a certain way, in this case trying to make sure Britain remains part of the EU, then it is a system that is very effective at coming up with practical solutions to problems and trying to make things work.

‘I think that is what will happen in the case of Britain’s membership of the EU.’


To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?

I will be away on holiday (ahoj, Prague!) from this Friday 31st July to Saturday 8th August. PolLaw Express daily news round-ups will therefore not be posted during these dates, and will resume on Monday 10th August.

Winning or losing – it’s all about the marginals.

Consider this post as a precursor of sorts for the main post of the week. The topic of both aforementioned blog posts? Take a guess: Labour. I know, I know. Quelle surprise, indeed. But what can I say? The party’s daily troubles are a veritable blogging goldmine, and did you truly believe I would turn a blind eye to it?

Between the leadership campaign – full of bickering wannabes and now polls illustrating how Mr Corbyn’s campaign for leader of the party is gaining momentum – to woes in the Commons, namely rebellious MPs and an indecisive leader, it is fair to say that Labour has been struggling since the party’s General Election nightmare. (You can read my comments on the Corbyn lead and the effects of same on Labour here.) The General Election campaign, the exit poll at the close of voting and the subsequent nightmare results night for Labour is an important aspect to dwell on – because in order for Labour to regroup and start its arduous comeback, it first needs to come to terms with its loss, and comprehend just where exactly it all went wrong.

Herein lies the problem for the Labour party: it isn’t so much that it doesn’t know what all went wrong, but rather it has no desire to actually reflect upon what went wrong.

All decisions made in life generally hinge on margins. Labour’s decisions throughout the campaign (for example, let’s not mention a certain stone now, shall we) did not just hinge on marginals, no. Such decisions were essentially swinging on them, and unfortunately for the party, the consequences of these decisions resulted in a short drop and a quick stop on results night.

Whether it was the decision to flaunt the Edstone, to persist in clamouring for a one-on-one debate with David Cameron, to contest listed key marginal seats, to not take seriously the SNP challenge in Scotland, to believe the much-publicised polling claiming a hung Parliament was in sight (the Tories, conversely, opted to believe in their own private polling – which was accurate) – ultimately Labour’s flawed decisions cost it – and not to mention a certain Mr Miliband – dearly. The margin for error was too tight, and Labour’s error count too high.

You would think that on the back of the disaster that was the General Election, Labour would attempt to take greater care and pay more attention in its decision-making. Then again, when considering the recent moves of the party and its members, maybe not.

Instead of rushing into a long-drawn out leadership campaign, Labour should have taken a protracted period of time out to assess and analyse the General Election and their own results. The leadership campaign, which was supposed to unearth an inspirational new gem of a leader to reinvent the party – in a fashion not dissimilar to the soul-searching undertaken by the Conservatives in recent times- has instead been rushed into and could prove disastrous. Whilst a review seeking to examine Labour’s performance in the General Election has been established and is under way, the leadership contest is pushing this down the priority list and into the shadows.

It has actually presented a whole new proverbial can of worms for the party in terms of attempting to determine where it should settle itself on a political scale, i.e. centre left, left of centre, traditional left or the carry on comrade left. It has failed to ignite the press or the public at large regarding the reinvention of the party, and instead is capturing the headlines for the wrong reasons. From the branding and maligning of Blairite Kendall as a Tory, to a nasty spat between Cooper and Kendall over working mothers v childless professionals to Corbyn emerging as a dark horse and now topping both private and public polling: Labour is lurching from negative headline to negative headline, which is not exactly reassuring to long-time supporters, not to mention potential voters.

Due to the General Election inquest occurring behind the scenes and playing second fiddle to the leadership contest, what could have been a project to unite the party behind reinvention and a subsequent launch on a new platform is not to be. Labour is instead becoming more splintered over the leadership contest, meaning that whoever does win the election in September faces an uphill battle to simply reunite the party, let alone lead it in Official Opposition.

Speaking of Official Opposition, Labour is not having a great time of it in the Commons. Between poor old Harriet firstly stating the party would accept the welfare cuts proposed in the Chancellor’s Budget, to having to backtrack following harsh criticism and backlash from her MPs, to then having to face rebellious MPs who voted against the welfare bill, after having been ordered to abstain. This Commons meltdown clearly demonstrates the need for Labour to remember the importance of effective decision-making and efficient leadership. (The aforementioned are evidently lacking at the moment, and indeed even from before.)

It would appear – to me, at least – that it has been continuous, ineffective decision-making across the board and inefficient leadership which has brought Labour to where it is today.

Ed Balls’ poor decision to dismiss Liam Byrne’s 2010 note of, ‘I’m sorry but there isn’t any money’ to his successors at the Treasury cost him his seat; he did not realise the significance of that note and the symbolism of ‘spendthrift’ Labour viewed by the general public. The flawed decision to continue to underestimate the SNP in Scotland resulted in Labour becoming virtually extinct; even though as early as October 2014 there were danger signs, such obvious foreshadowing that was not heeded. The apparent strategy of ‘not discussing immigration and de facto refusing to acknowledge the mass immigration permitted by Labour under Blair’ – Labour appeared out-of-touch with the concerns of ordinary voters. That this was continued into the recent General Election is laughable; you would have thought Labour would have realised that immigration is considered a debatable topic by the public, especially after that incident suffered one Gordon Brown, from which he never recovered. The infamous and widely derided Edstone – that spectacular PR failure – which was supposed to illustrate Labour’s ‘popular’ pledges to the public only resulted in mockery (still ongoing) amid criticism of vague promises. I could even harken back to the days of old, to the Blair v Brown turf war: the aftermath of which has resulted in the ever-presence bitter lines of Blarities and Brownites – as Liz Kendall knows all too well.

In sum: Labour apparently suffers from endemic flawed decision-making. And it is Labour’s loss which is the Conservatives’ gain. All of the above decisions could have swung the other way; marginal calls resulted in disaster after disaster for the Labour party.

To consider the political definition ‘marginal’ to hand, even plans to win marginal seats failed to come to fruition for Labour. Seats which could have gone in favour of Labour due to the narrow percentage held by the incumbent failed to swing the party’s way. Bolton West was one such seat:

Right up until 5.30am on Friday the Labour party thought Julie Hilling had Bolton West in the bag.

“We came away thinking we’d had a fantastic campaign,” said local councillor Christopher Peacock. “Julie’s support on the ground had been amazing. Her posters outnumbered the Conservatives many times over. She has been such a hard-working constituency MP. There was nothing locally that I could point to to suggest she was going to lose. We always thought there would be hundreds rather than thousands in it, but with us as the winner.”

With such positives, how then did Labour lose Bolton West? Ms Hilling believes that it is because

she lost on national issues rather than local bugbears. “Immigration came up a lot on the doorstep, so did Labour’s economic credibility,” said Hilling, admitting that the popular perception of Ed Miliband was often far from positive.

Immigration, because Labour reached the decision not to campaign on that issue. Economic credibility, because silly, individual decisions simply reinforced the general public view of Labour as ‘spendthrift’ and a threat to the economy.

There were nine key marginal seats, must-win seats for Labour if the party was to win the General Election. The Telegraph stated:

Labour needs a uniform swing of five per cent to win the 68 extra seats required to form a majority, while the Conservatives need a two per cent swing to gain the 20 extra seats they need for a majority.

Of these nine key seats highlighted by The Telegraph, Labour won exactly two: Hampstead and Kilburn and Sheffield Central – simply retaining seats the party had won in 2010. (The Telegraph believed Labour would gain six of those nine.) The Conservatives took the other seven.

Whether it was ‘shy Tories’, ‘lazy Labourites’ or inaccurate polling, Labour lost these key seats – and the election itself.

I bring up marginal seats also because I read an article today which covered how candidates who failed to win these seats are including among those surveyed candidates who stated they would prefer Liz Kendall to win in the leadership contest. The survey of 64 parliamentary candidates who failed to win seats at the General Election places Kendall ahead on 36 percent.

This would suggest that she is perhaps the ideal ‘unity’ candidate, appearing to many across the differing factions within the party – the one who could revamp the party after the General Election. Again, it is all down to marginal decision-making – this time with those eligible to vote in September – yet Labour candidates from 2015 have seemingly made their decision. Thus it will be intriguing to see how the Labour supporters themselves vote.

On the topic of revamping, The New Statesman has an article online, which I read with interest today. Entitled, ‘Labour needs to win most where it lost the worst’, it essentially lays out three main areas where Labour needs to direct its attention and focus on in order to re-form and thrive as a party. The three areas highlighted are:

  1. Social Class: Labour’s traditional working class base seemingly turned its back on the Labour party. Why? Even TNS seems to agree with me:

    There is deep unease about immigration, not just evident in polls and focus groups but also in working class support for the Conservatives and UKIP. Added to this are blue-collar concerns over the NHS and the cost of living.

    Labour could have been open about immigration, discussed its merits re citizenship and benefits to the UK economy. It could have discussed plans for NHS reform and plans to safeguard the NHS. It could have emphasised its idea of a ‘national living wage’. It decided not to. And it lost. (With the Chancellor actually using the concept of a national living wage himself in the recent Budget.)

  2. ‘Grey vote’:  In 2015, Labour continued to lose support from older voters, gaining fewer than one in four votes. Again, to quote TNS:

    The Tories strained every sinew to protect those aged over 65 from austerity and have triple locked their state pensions. Meanwhile older people were least likely to see Labour as competent. How Labour reconnects with older people who will form a bigger cohort of voters in 2020 and who were more likely to see the economy, deficit, immigration and patriotism as important will be key if Labour is to start to make inroads into the Tory majority.

    The decision not to engage in frank, open discussion about the economy and the deficit (and even challenge the stereotypical view of Labour’s role in this) whilst again omitting to talk about immigration and the concept of ‘Britishness’ cost Labour dearly. The older electorate simply viewed the Tories as the more trustworthy, reliable and dependable party to govern the country.

  3. Political geography: I have touched upon this previously, but to reiterate –  regarding those mentioned marginals, Labour performed worst where it needed to win most. In many of these key marginals which Labour needed to win, there was a swing to the Tories. Labour not only failed to realise the threat it faced in Scotland as a whole, but by deciding to focus with perhaps too narrowly a scope on key seats, it lost sight of the bigger picture: the country as a whole. (Remember that here in Northern Ireland, the main British parties generally do not stand in elections, or even have an actual presence. Even the opt to try, it never really goes according to plan. Remember 2010, Tories? If interested, read this rather simplified article to understand why this is the case.)

Examining where Labour lost and where it has a realistic chance of winning in 2020 suggests that it is not an easy case of targeting voters in the North or South or Scotland, England or Wales. It needs to win seats in most parts of the country. What stands out from an analysis of the seats that Labour needs to gain is that many of them are in suburbia, small towns, new towns and seaside towns.

There we have it. For once, TNS and myself are singing from the same hymn sheet. In key marginals, Labour thought only of seats and did not consider national issues on a regional level. This, combined with previously mentioned decisions including the party’s failure to discuss immigration and the deficit cost the party on Results night. Consequently, it is costing the party to this very day, as it faces being torn apart over the leadership contest.

Winning or losing, it is all about the marginals, especially in politics. For the Labour Party, not understanding the margins of error lead to its terrible General Election loss. If the party does not realise how marginal, flawed decision-making rendered it to its current state, and soon, it will be an awfully long time before it reverses its 7th May Election defeat.

(Politico EU presents this: ’12 people who ruined Labour’ and it basically reiterates what I have stated throughout this post: poor decisions have cost Labour over the years. Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, Ed Miliband and Alan Johnson are amongst those featured; there is also a cameo by Liam Byrne.)

PolLaw Express: 23rd July 2015 edition.

Your daily dose of politics and the law. NI intrigued? Covered. UK focused? Sure. US-centric? You got it.

PolLaw Express blog photo

Welcome to the daily news round-up via my e-newspaper. Here are the top stories from today:

(Before we begin, why not look at this satirical gem from The New Yorker re overly wordy emails? Well, it made me chuckle, anyway.)

1. Nikkei buys the Financial Times (via POLITICO)
~ Japanese financial newspaper Nikkei has purchased the Financial Times for $1.29 billion from Pearson.

In a statement, Pearson chief executive John Fallon said that the media is at an “inflection point” which led to the decision to sell the salmon-coloured newspaper.

Fallon went on to comment:

‘Pearson has been a proud proprietor of the FT for nearly 60 years. But we’ve reached an inflection point in media, driven by the explosive growth of mobile and social…

‘In this new environment, the best way to ensure the FT’s journalistic and commercial success is for it to be a part of a global, digital news company.’

It will be interesting to see how Nikkei will proceed, and how it plans to revamp the FT.

(Pst, fellow law students: this is the newspaper you are constantly told to read to improve your commercial awareness. Note the irony in that the news of this sale is, in fact, an article regarding commercial awareness.)


2. High court orders judicial review of Cage charity funding decision (via The Guardian)
~The High Court today made a landmark ruling that the Charity Commission will face a judicial review of its decision to pressure charities not to fund advocacy group Cage.

The Commission allegedly had overstepped its powers when it requested for two charities to stop funding Cage in March, after the group said Mohammed Emwazi, believed to be the ISIS executioner known as ‘Jihadi John’, had been radicalised by Britain.

The application for the review to proceed was granted on Thursday morning by Lord Justice Burnett. The parties now have until mid-September to submit any further evidence.

The case will be heard later in the year in the Divisional Court.


3. Liz Kendall dismisses quit calls and vows to fight to end (via BBC News)
~ Quelle surprise, another news story surrounding the Labour leadership contest did on this day emerge.

One of the Labour leadership contenders, Liz Kendall has dismissed calls for her to pull out of the contest and back another candidate to defeat Jeremy Corbyn.

These calls come after a YouGov poll for the Times placed left-winger Mr Corbyn well ahead in the race, and Ms Kendall fourth. She has been repeatedly branded as a ‘Tory in disguise’ and as being the polar opposite of Corbyn.

But she was determined today, stating that she will be ‘fighting for what [she] believe[s] in until the very end.’  Kendall said she had always been an outsider in the race, but there were 51 days left to get people’s support.

Furthermore, Kendall added that she was the only candidate offering an alternative to the politics which lost the party the last two elections, saying her policies would help Labour win power ‘so we can change the country for the better’.

You can read my musings on the YouGov poll in question, and the labours of Labour here.

Also, lookie here: it would appear I am not the only one who is tempted to make comparisons between Labour, Corbyn and Michael Foot.


4. Obama urges UK to stay in the European Union (via BBC News)
~Speaking to the BBC, US President Barack Obama has stated that the UK must stay in the European Union to continue to have influence on the world stage.

He said the UK’s EU membership ‘gives [America] much greater confidence about the strength of the transatlantic union’.

Obama also said that the UK was America’s ‘best partner’ due to its willingness to project power beyond its ‘immediate self-interests to make this a more orderly, safer world’. Furthermore, he called Prime Minister David Cameron an ‘outstanding partner’, specifically congratulating his government for meeting the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence – which had previously been a source of recent contention between the US and the UK.

These comments come after the news yesterday, when MPs argued that any relaxation of so-called ‘purdah rules’ in the lead-up to the referendum on EU membership would be ‘completely unacceptable’. See yesterday’s PolLaw Express news round-up here (at number two on the list).


5. MI5 letter unearthed by Cabinet Office in child abuse inquiry (via BBC News)
~ An MI5 letter which warned of the risk of ‘political embarrassment’ from child sexual abuse claims has come to light.

The 1986 note – written by the then-head of MI5, Sir Anthony Duff – followed on from warnings an MP had a ‘penchant for small boys’.

The newly uncovered material, which was found via a search by the Cabinet Office, was not disclosed to a 2014 Home Office Review.

The author of the Review, the NSPCC’s Peter Wanless, stated his belief that the new documents showed the risk to children from MPs was ‘not considered at all’ – yet it did not alter his overall findings.

These papers have been discovered months after the conclusion of an official review into whether allegations of child abuse were covered up by the Home Office in the 1980s.


To read these headlines and more besides, why not visit PolLaw Express?

Sanctuary Cities: tbd (to be defunded)?

When Quasimodo famously (well, in literature and via Disney, anyway) cried ‘sanctuary’ on behalf of the Parisian gypsies, he didn’t necessarily have to worry about financial repercussions. Victor Hugo with his perchance for brick-length novels tended to concern himself more with heartbreaking character deaths, and Disney focused on delivering a happy ending – but alas, real life unfolds differently, which is what has happened today over in the US of A.

House Republicans are seeking a crackdown on cities across the US, dubbed ‘sanctuary cities’ which shelter illegal immigrants – and they signalled their intent today.  They voted to pass legislation that would deny federal funds to these so-called sanctuary cities. The bill, which passed by 241 votes to 179 (remember that after the November 2014 midterms, the GOP controlled Congress) is designed to withhold certain federal law enforcement grants to cities that have policies designed to shelter illegal immigrants from deportation. You can read up on such cities from a proponent, advocate website here.

Okay, so we know that the GOP traditionally have a tough line when it comes to illegal immigrants. But why up the ante now, when summer recess is rapidly approaching? A clue: political excuse. Not to mention that the summer recess will allow for this bill to gain momentum and further planning.

The GOP attack has to be placed within context. It follows in the aftermath of a shooting incident in San Francisco, CA this month which resulted in the death of a young women, Kate Steinle, and that allegedly involved an illegal immigrant. That the man in question apparently possesses a criminal past isn’t helping matters. San Fran authorities believe that the killing was carried out by one Juan Francisco Lopez-Sanchez, who bears a history of felony convictions and who had apparently been deported five times. You can imagine that this revelation fired up the media. The GOP have seized on the opportunity to demand tighter border controls and investigation into cities which shield illegal immigrants from the law and subsequent deportation. Hence their proposal of this bill, which would deny cities that refuse to enforce federal immigration laws certain Justice Department grants.

Consequently, these sanctuary cities have come under intense scrutiny in the wake of Kate Steinle’s death. There has also been increased media coverage, both in the US, but also on a global scale. (I must confess that I had not been aware of such cities, nor to their extent across America.)

Critics of the sanctuary laws say such policies encourage people to immigrate to the U.S. illegally at the expense of citizens, and such arguments were put forward in the House prior to the voting of the bill. Rep. Trey Gowdy (R- SC) – remember this fella? He is the Chairman of the Select Committee investigating what actually happened at Benghazi. Keep an eye on the Committee, but also the man himself – in particular criticised the sanctuary laws in typical, robust Republican fashion:

“A refuge for whom? A sanctuary for whom?… A sanctuary for Kate Steinle? Or a refuge for a convicted felon with a 25-year-long criminal history?”

Of course, it should be noted that sanctuary cities do not condone any criminal activity by any person, illegal immigrant or otherwise. (Apart, of course, from allowing illegal immigrants to stay within the city and not be arrested.) In addition, we should all remember that many ‘illegals’, whether entering America, or closer to home here in Europe, are not seeking to engage on a crime spree. A vast majority of these people are simply seeking a new life for themselves and their families. Unfortunately, however, they do happen to be breaking laws in the process.

As we know how lovingly and caring the two main parties are towards each other, the Democrat stance must be noted. Democrats have accused House Republicans of bringing up the bill in part because of (wait for it) real estate mogul and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump, and his especial focus on illegal immigration and sanctuary cities. They have dubbed the bill the ‘Donald Trump Act’ as a result; given Trump’s recent controversial immigration comments, I personally think it is a good working title for the bill. As you may imagine, this wit is not welcomed by the GOP. House Republicans strongly denied that Trump had any influence on their decision to bring up the legislation.

Upon receiving news of the House GOP’s intentions in relation to both the bill and the vote on same, Obama had some criticism of his own to issue forth, in typical, robust Democrat fashion via a press statement. Prior to the vote today, the Obama Administration threatened to veto the bill. The Obama Administration also indicated that the death of Ms Steinle is not a valid reason to pressure sanctuary cities to enforce federal laws. (A stance which may not impress the Steinle family.)

The Office of Management and Budget stated in its released statement of administration policy:

  ‘This bill fails to offer comprehensive reforms needed to fix the nation’s broken immigration laws, undermines current administration efforts to remove the most dangerous convicted criminals and to work collaboratively with state and local law enforcement agencies, and threatens the civil rights of all Americans by authorising state and local officials to collect information regarding any private citizen’s immigration status, at any time, for any reason, and without justification.’

Translation: this bill is flawed and stupid. So there.

This veto threat was issued only mere moments prior to Ms Steinle’s father appearing to testify before a House subcommittee regarding the threat which sanctuary cities pose to public safety. Mr Steinle testified in support of tighter immigration regulations and urged for the end of existing sanctuary cities.

The White House Press Secretary had previously dismissed the legislation a day before the announced veto threat.  Josh Earnest had stated that the Administration did not take the legislation proposed by the GOP ‘particularly seriously’. Again, in typical bi-partisan style (see: sarcasm) Earnest stated that  Republicans were guilty of inaction on comprehensive legislation on a federal level. On that note, Obama had merely used his (although this is a heavily debated topic) executive authority to attempt to fix the nation’s broken immigration system.

Furthermore, The White House had said how it would be preferable that in lieu of the House GOP bill, Congress should pass the Senate’s immigration reform bill from the last Congress. It also argued that public safety is already being handled by the Obama Administration’s new immigration enforcement priorities. And cue partisanship snipping, as those priorities have been blasted by Republicans as weakening public safety.

Well, the bill has passed the House, so it will be interesting to see how the White House responds, and how the bill proceeds. I can only hope that Ms Steinle’s death is not being exploited for political gain and media coverage – but we all know of my cynicism and belief that politics always seems to come before people for modern politicians, irrespective of nationality. And, even if this bill is meant with sincerity, and even if it could work and becomes law, it will not bring back Ms Steinle.

The most pressing issue seems to be of bureaucracy and a clash of state vs federal systems, rather than sanctuary cities. Bear in mind that the Federal Bureau of Prisons transferred Lopez-Sanchez to the San Francisco Police Department for an outstanding arrest warrant on drug charges before the fateful incident which cost Ms Steinle her life.

However, San Francisco authorities dropped the charges and released Lopez-Sanchez weeks later – despite a request from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials to receive notification of his release, as Lopez-Sanchez was prioritised for deportation. Furthermore, even Democrats have argued that Lopez-Sanchez should have been deported, regardless of the sanctuary statutes in San Francisco.

On a personal level, I note with interest the admission in the Administration statement that America’s immigration laws are ‘broken’.

Obviously, the Obama Administration mean that the laws should be reformed to allow for greater amnesty and less deportation.  As someone who studied abroad in the US on a student visa, I can remember the stressful planning and organisation required to obtain it.

I spent around $500 in submitting the application, applying to register a SEVIS number, applying for a visa interview at the local US embassy, for the visa to be processed and finally for it to be delivered. I did not mind paying out – obviously, I had to in order to obtain the visa – as I wanted everything to be valid, legitimate and obviously all above board. I also spent a fortune in time: I had to fill out many a form, be interviewed to confirm my student status before I even left, I had to be questioned, my passport and visa scrutinised, my fingerprints examined and suitcase identified at US Pre-clearance in Dublin airport. Again, I accepted this because it was necessary to allow me to enter America and study there legally. Whilst there, though, I was always conscious that I was perhaps viewed as ‘yet another one of those international students’; goodness knows if anyone ever thought I was taking the place of an American citizen. For someone used to the free movement pillars of the EU, America was quite the shock to the system – especially when you remember that student visa are only valid for a certain period of time and you simply must exit the country prior to the visa validity end date. I was not allowed to be engaged in paid off-campus employment, hence why my internship in a local law firm was unpaid. Reading any legal small print regarding the opportunities to seek out campus employment, I read that the policy was one of ‘Americans first’ – again, such a contrast to the EU, as any fellow law student who has studied the EU constitution can tell you.

Some of my close friends in America are from immigrant families. I have heard stories of cash-strapped grandparents who saved up and waited patiently for years for their applications to be processed. Stories of struggle, as families were separated until the money was gathered to legally bring everyone over the border. Of the hardship faced and the prejudice endured, ‘you’re Hispanic. Did your parents come here legally?’ / ‘You’re not American, not really.’

Essentially, I know how immigrants are viewed in America – legal ones because that was me, and illegal ones because I heard and read the opinions of others.

I remember that a classmate enquired whether I felt ‘betrayed’. I asked them what they meant, and they elaborated: ‘you know, because you paid so much to be here legally, and will be kicked out when your visa expires and there are loads of illegals here who just crossed a border and will stay forever.’ NB – this type of view could be readily applied within the UK.

Conversely, I can recall how my fabulous PR professor once boldly stated before my class during a discussion: ‘Leah is the type of immigrant we like here in the States. She’s white, she’s Irish with a nice accent and speaks English.’ Cue awkward shuffles and stares. She had hit the wry nail on the sardonic head, and we all knew it.

Sanctuary cities do need to be scrutinised. Legislation needs to be introduced and debated. America needs to assess its current immigration laws, and consider reform. But at the heart of this, is human tragedy and suffering: of the Steinle family, who have lost a daughter, and those ‘illegals’ who only want a better future for their children. When we listen to sound bites and partisan bickering, the politics drowns out the reality. We would do well to remember that.