Daily News Ponderings: 16th July edition.

In the news today…

Hello, and welcome to the 16th July edition of ‘Daily News Ponderings’, the daily post where I will share news stories which have caught my eye/piqued my interest/caused me to sigh in exasperation during the day.

(I have avoided the temptation to commence with a chat about the latest episode in the ongoing EU v Greek Tragedy, but fret not – I will get around to that soon.)

1. Black humour and irony have been shadowing the Labour Party since its dismal performance in the recent General Election (loss of key marginals in England, loss of big names such as Ed Balls, resignation of leader Ed Miliband and oh, you know, just that absolute hiding handed down by the vast majority of  Scottish people) and today proves this trend is continuing. Why? Well, recent polling carried out by rival wannabe Labour leader camps have revealed that Jeremy Corbyn could in fact top the ballot. The Indy covers The New Statesman report that one survey gives Corbyn a lead of 15 points plus, whilst a second private poll put him on course to win after building up a ‘commanding position’. No doubt this news prompts several headaches for rivals Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall, who had only ever thought of Corbyn as a maverick – his leftist views surely rendered him a minor challenge? Sorry to the trio, but apparently not.

The veteran left winger, who had been included on the ballot list at the last minute after several MPs ‘lent’ him their nominations in an effort to kick-start actual discussion and scrutiny was only ever expected to scrape last place. But he after putting in unexpectedly strong performances in leadership hustings, he is now winning over large numbers of activists – and could be on the way to winning the position.

His firebrand far-left political views – he is particularly vocal as an anti-austerity activist – have won him the endorsement of the largest union in Britain, Unite: the union is actively participating in the leadership election campaign by signing up affiliated members to cast votes. Whist the overall balance of support within the Labour Party is difficult to accurately ascertain due to the newly implemented ‘one-member-one-vote system’, it is evident that there are real fears within that Corbyn’s radical left views could alienate moderate Labour voters. (Fears made all the more real when you consider how many moderates or ‘flirty’ voters switched to the Conservatives during the General Election.) The thought of Corbyn in charge brings back memories of Michael Foot’s leadership – a ‘blast from the past’ normally stirs nostalgia, but for Labour, remembering the heavy defeat under pure political theorist and academic Foot, this is something that must be avoided.

Should this not be a nightmare scenario enough, it also has cultivated new bitter splits within the party. The MPs who lent Corbyn their votes do not necessarily endorse him, or support his policies. The branding of Liz Kendall as ‘a Tory in disguise’ and the inclusion of Corbyn means Labour could be led from one extreme or the other, further confusing voters – where exactly does the Labour party stand on issue X or Y in this case? And even the topic of the polls obtained by The New Statesman causes bickering, with all the other leadership camps denying they were the ones who commissioned them.

There is one winner in all of this mess: the Conservative Party. Whilst the campaign drags on, Cameron et al can smugly point out flaws in Labour policies, flaws in the candidates, and even though we do not know yet who the leader will be, it is obvious that they have a momentous task ahead to find a compromise political foundation – a task the Tories will exploit.

The Conservative Party has already forced Labour to the left following the General Election. Should Labour go any further to the left (I’m attempting not to quote Beyonce here), they will be sliding off the benches and out of the Commons.

2. Adding fuel to the smouldering fire that is the feelings of hurt and betrayal felt by those who voted ‘oxi’ in the recent Greek bailout referendum, the Greek Parliament has voted ‘nai’ to the latest bailout package imposed by the EU – a package which makes the initial bailout terms akin to a soothing massage after a gentle stroll on Greece’s sandy beaches.

Prime Minister Tsipras had to face down discontent and rebellion from his own Syriza MPs, 38 of whom voted against. Overall, Greek lawmakers voted 229-64 in favour of the package of budget cuts and tax hikes with six abstentions. And so another hurdle is removed to make way for the three-year financing deal, which seeks to prevent Grexit, escalating default and potentially the collapse of the Eurozone. So, not a big deal at all, then.

Whilst the EU in general may breathe a sigh of relief, I doubt this was the same story in Greece. The measures which will now be implemented are harsh indeed for country beaten and bruised after five years of financial pain and dire economic straits. An influx of tax rises will be adopted for starters, including the abolition of the VAT discount for some of the islands furthest from the mainland. As the tourist trade takes a hit from the increase of VAT, companies too will face pain in the form of a higher corporation tax.

The new finance minister, Euclid Tsakalotos, wearily stated that ‘Monday was the most difficult day of my life. It’s a decision that will weigh on me for rest of my life. We had no choice’. This feeling of EU imposition and rejection of democracy is widespread, with the speaker of the Parliament, Zoe Constantopolou, calling the vote a ‘black day for democracy’.

Greece will receive around €86 billion that it desperately requires to prop up its ailing economy, but there is no escaping the fact that the long-term prognosis paints a gloomy picture: an economy some 25% smaller than five years ago and unemployment increasing even further.

What about the UK position in all of this? Well, both David Cameron and George Osborne have vowed that British taxpayers will not be pitching in to bail out Greece. They will be doing their utmost to prevent British money being used; according to the hopes of Juncker, President of the European Commission, the UK should contribute. The UK would be liable around 15% of any loan request from the European Financial Stability Mechanism (EFSM) if this option is called upon.

A bailout has been secured and Greece propped up once more. For now.

3. Ah, the House of Lords. They’re act it again, causing another headache for the Conservative government. This time, they have backed an amendment for a reduction in the legal voting age, and thus are at loggerheads with the Tories once more.

The Lords backed an amendment to allow for 16 and 17 years old to vote in local elections, a call that was rejected by the coalition government in the run up to the General Election. Well, I say coalition government, but it was the Conservative majority which overruled their Lib Dem partners.

Speaking of Lib Dems, they teamed up with Labour peers to vote through the amendment to the Cities and Local Government Devolution Bill with 221 to 154 votes. Whilst the Lords has traditionally been viewed as the equivalent to a Conservative politicians’ retirement home, Tories are actually outnumbered when a gang-up forms in the current chamber composition, having 227 peers to Labour’s 213 and the Lib Dems’ 102. There are also 180 crossbenchers, who play a key role in cultivating bi- and/or tri-partisanship. (Fun Fact: there are only 193 women in the Lords, compared to 593 men; 193 out of 672 seats!)

Previously, the Government  rejected the proposals to include 16 and 17-year-olds in the franchise for the EU referendum. However, the Lords also plan to continue their mischievous streak and vote to overturn that decision.

Baroness Smith of Basildon, the Labour Leader in the Lords stated that it was ‘absolutely right that the voices of young people should be heard’ and that the Prime Minister needs to consider his position, as he is currently ‘sending a signal to 16 and 17 year olds that they have nothing to contribute to a debate of real historical significance that will have a profound effect on their futures’.

Whilst I totally agree that young people deserve to have their views heard, and should be able to engage in political debate, I cannot help but feel that 16 and 17 is perhaps a tad too young to vote. Whilst I was intrigued by politics and already an avid follower of the news and legal developments when I was 16, I can remember being preoccupied with school and GCSEs. More to the point, I think young people need to have some life experience tucked under their belts aside from school. I know I am not the same person now as I was then: university, volunteering and studying abroad have had a role in shaping my opinions as well as my own keen political/legal interest.

4. Whether Obama is genuinely attempting bi-partisanship and seeks an ally in criminal justice reform, or he is deliberately highlighting the ideological differences which already cause Rand Paul trouble within the GOP, his comments made the round in America – and could result in the man who aspires to be the GOP 2016 Presidential candidate facing another round of snide reported remarks from the more conservative Republican branch, including fellow 2016 hopefuls.

*Side note: I just received an email to my American college address requesting my assistance as a student in Iowa to help with grassroots libertarian activism and promote Rand Paul. Unfortunately I will be in Northern Ireland for the foreseeable future, so I cannot take up the offer. I would love to be able to see how grassroots campaign works in America, though – or indeed, in the UK.

President Obama has argued that by reducing federal sentences for non-violent drug crimes, taxpayers money will be saved and more importantly, assist minority communities, who disproportionally make up the percentage of those imprisoned in America, especially for drug offences.

Obama is therefore calling for an overhaul of the criminal-justice system, arguing that there are simply too many people guilty of non-violent crimes that are imprisoned for lengthy and disproportionate jail sentences. Depicting it as a bipartisan policy goal, he has since called on Congress to amend sentencing laws by the end of the year.

At a Whitehouse news conference yesterday, he specifically named Rand Paul and said he was ‘very appreciative’ of his involvement – a move that will cause Paul to stick out like a sore thumb amid the Republican Party.

Rand Paul has often remarked that ethnic minorities and Americans of colour are disproportionately sentenced and imprisoned, especially for otherwise ‘minor’ crimes in comparison to the statistics compiled for white Americans. As a ‘moderate’ libertarian (he is not as strict as his father) his remarks seem rather out of place when compared with the general line of the GOP, especially in relation to the ‘war on drugs’.

I thought this was an interesting article, because it is either bi-partisanship in action, or a subtle House of Cards move by Obama to undermine a Republican contender. Well, we never know!

5. Finally, how could I allow the opportunity to discuss the increase in MPs’ salary pass me by? A clue: I cannot.

The Telegraph reports how today the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (or IPSA) has officially announced its plan to increase MPs pay from £67,000 to  £74,000 an annum. (Oh, to be in Parliament now that July and a pay rise is there.) IPSA is now set on a  collision course with Prime Minister, who has repeatedly urged it not to proceed with the increase in the past. (Whether he at truly disagrees with it at heart, or simply has the political sense to know it will not go down with the electorate at a time of fragile economic stability is another story.)

After the General Election – this is the new measurement of time in lieu of AD? Shall it be AGE, ‘After the General Election’? – IPSA had ordered a review of the decision and requested ‘new and compelling evidence’  to suggest it should not go ahead with the planned increase. In addition, IPSA has the authority to order that the increase is to be immediately paid, and the power to execute it. And as if that isn’t enough, the pay increase is actually backdated to the 8th of May, AGE. (What larks.) If IPSA does not order this immediate payment, the pay rise will be paid automatically on the 30th September.

It is interesting to note that David Cameron’s opposition to the increase relaxed somewhat after backlash and lobbying from his own MPs. As a Prime Minister of a government with only  a slim majority, perhaps he thinks it is better to not protest too much.

Have comments? Fire away in the section below.


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