PolLaw Express: 20th 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:

(We have quite the jam-packed list to get through, so take a seat and enjoy.)

1. France’s Hollande seeks support for Eurozone Parliament (Via BBC News)
~ It’s a call to arms – of the ballot kind – from President Hollande, as he seeks to revive past calls for a Parliament exclusively for Eurozone member states of the EU.

Writing in France’s Sunday paper, <<Le Journal Du Dimanche>>, Hollande put submitted his ideas for the future of Europe via this letter – advocating a new Parliament for the Eurozone countries and a shared budget. The Eurozone is managed by the Eurogroup, made up of the finance ministers of each member state who uses the Euro as their national currency. It is evidently believed that a Eurozone-exclusive Parliament allows for debate and accountability for countries using the Euro at this time of Eurozone crisis. It could go some way in answering the calls that the unelected ‘troika’ of the IMF, European Central Bank and the European Commission and their imposition of austerity and bailout terms are in fact restricting – even rejecting – democracy.

“What threatens us is not an excess of Europe, but an insufficiency [of Europe]…

“Parliaments are still too far removed from decisions. And people turn away through being marginalised. Populists have seized on this disenchantment because they are afraid of the world and want to return to the divisions, walls and fences.

So writes Mr Holland, who may be disappointed at how his proposals have been received in France.  Partly this is because this is not ground-breaking news: the Socialist Party has for years promoted the ideal of greater economic integration and governance of Europe.

Yet the plan is vague, and not only that: Mr Hollande is facing mounting pressure in France (remember the Presidential elections are fast approaching) over his acceptance of the recently-imposed harsh bailout terms for Greece.

If Hollande had hoped his revival of this Socialist ideal might lead to a rebound in approval for him as Europe’s saviour, he may be in for a long wait yet.

2. Fallon denies MPs ‘kept in dark’ about UK role in Syrian air strikes. (Via BBC News)
~Defence Secretary Michael Fallon rejected claims that MPs are being ‘kept in the dark’ about the involvement of British pilots in air-strikes in Syria. He stated before MPs in Parliament today that it was ‘standard practice’ for UK personnel to be embedded with allied forces, and furthermore that their engagement was not a ‘British military operation’.

MPs backed UK air-strikes against IS fighters in Iraq last year, but notably not in Syria, after MPs voted against proposed military action against the Assad government two years ago.

Fallon said there would be a time for MPs to reconsider whether Islamic State should be confronted ‘at source’ although he again ruled out any forces on the ground.

Labour argued that the government’s lack of openness would undermine public confidence, with Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker saying the government had ‘no intention’ of telling Parliament about the UK’s involvement, and the lack of transparency and accountability damaged trust.

The Defence Secretary was compelled to reject claims that the government has deliberately tried to keep the information secret, saying the government had been ‘open and transparent’ in response to the FOI request by campaign group Reprieve.

The debate over government transparency and the role FOI requests play in accountability has recently come to the fore once more, following news that there is to be a review into the Freedom of Information Act. (Which you can read about in the PolLaw Express: 17th July edition blog post.)

The Prime Minster also delivered a keynote speech today, detailing how the British fight against Extremism, including IS, is to be carried out over the next couple of years.

3. Poll Tax was ‘a serious mistake’ – Waldegrave (via BBC News)
~ Proving that surrounding yourself with special political advisors and listening to what they say can lead to many an error of judgement, we have this little confession from today. One of the main architects of the disastrously unpopular tax has admitted its introduction was a mistake.

Lord Waldegrave had been a local government minister when then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher tasked him to find an alternative to rates. The working alternative resulted in a charge which was levied on individuals, rather than properties. Today he admitted he had not intended the tax to be introduced in such a ‘gung-ho’ manner:

‘I was too trusting of my bosses… to see as I saw, all the difficulties with it. They went gung ho and introduced it overnight in one go, which was never my plan and I thought they must know what there were doing – but they didn’t.’

The community charge, upon its introduced in Scotland in 1989 and England and Wales in 1990, results in riots in London and a mass non-payment campaign/boycott in Scotland.

By the end of the year,  Thatcher had been forced to stand down, after her rising unpopularity made her vulnerable to plots within the Conservative party – and her own Cabinet. She was succeeded by John Major, who replaced the charge with the council tax system.

4. New e-petitions website opens (Via BBC News)
~ Hurrah, democracy and campaigns can be launched via the internet once more, cry political activists. Meanwhile, MPs will be sighing, as they can now been susceptible to lobbying via digital petitions.

Members of the public can once again digitally petition MPs on issues with the launch of a new website: the petition.parliament.uk. It is designed to help people submit issues for inclusion on the political agenda and (they hope) open a ‘new dialogue’ with MPs and ministers. Who will be delighted, I’m sure.

E-petitions will initially be considered by a cross-party committee of MPs. Under the previous system, e-petitions were directed to government departments rather than MPs. A minimum threshold of 10,000 signatures was required for an official response. and 100,000 required for a petition to be considered for debate in Parliament.

Whether the attempting-to-become-media-savvy Parliament will actually have topics of public interest up for debate or not, we shall have to wait and see. Yet it does mean greater public access to Parliament, potential debate and public engagement. (I confess that I am waiting to see how long it takes for the first e-petition demanding IPSA be abolished or MPs to lose their pay increase. See number five on the list here.)

5. Voting gets under way for Scottish Labour (via BBC News)
~ Ah, poor old Labour. Not content with running a leadership campaign south of the border, they are enjoying it so much that there is one on the go north of the border, too.

The Scottish election was brought about by the resignation of Jim Murphy, after the party’s MPs were rendered virtually extinct in Scotland at the general election.

The vote is a choice between MSPs Kezia Dugdale and Ken Macintosh, with the result expected on 15th August. It will be a one member, one vote ballot and non-members may register as supporters in order to participate.

Labour lost a staggering 40 Scottish seats in the General Election in May. Their loss was the SNP’s gain, with the party recording a historic landslide, winning 56 out of 59 seats.

This Scottish contest marks the start of a difficult battle to reclaim lost territory – a task made more gruelling after the publication of a recent poll suggesting that Scottish Labour will face a heavy defeat in the upcoming Holyrood elections in 2016, losing seats to – guess who? – the SNP.

6. Greece: Death spiral ahead (via POLITICO)
~ How do you solve a problem like bailouts, austerity, an ailing economy, and Grexit? Answers on two postcards please: one addressed to Athens and the other to Brussels.

The problem is exacerbated following the recently agreed bailout terms, even after the IMF itself admitted that this will not help solve Greece’s financial situation, and that debt relief needs to be seriously considered. (But a small round of applause as news broke that Greece managed to repay both the IMF and ECB today. And, Greek banks opened for the first time in three weeks.)

Whilst the recent bailout was approved and funds began to trickle into Athens, you cannot begin to wonder whether this is merely the conclusion of one cycle and the commencement of another: the so-called ‘death spiral’. The fear is, of course, is that by opting to allow (or force) Greece into Grexit, other Eurozone countries such as Portugal and Italy may find themselves standing on the edge of a particularly economically-painful abyss.

If you fancy a lovely dose of a glum, morbid lookout for Greece and the Eurozone, check out POLITICO’s article, in which Mr Galbraith states:

‘What the Greek government tried to do…was to … bring a glimmer of economic coherence – and the potential for economic survival – to the Eurozone.  It tried to get its “partners” to recognize that economic policies that had failed to produce predicted recovery for five years should be reconsidered and changed.  For this heresy, Greece was crucified, to set an example.  And an example it will become.

‘But the lesson the good citizens of the other crisis countries will draw may not be what their financial masters suppose. It may be, above all, get to cash, as quickly as possible.  And get out of the Euro as soon as you can.’

Speaking of cycles, this brings me neatly back to the beginning article covered in this news round-up blog post: that of Mr Hollande’s idea for a Eurozone Parliament. Perhaps, in a little twist of irony, it could be based in the cradle of democracy – Athens.

(You can read my thoughts on the ongoing Greek situation here. I quote Heaney and Shakespeare, it is rather fab.)

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


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