Daily News Ponderings: 21st July edition.

In the news today…

Hello, and welcome to the 21st 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.

It looks set to be quite a hectic post, so make sure to buckle up. Without further ado, let’s get to it.


1. Oh, the many labours of Labour. The party is having a tough time of it, from a tedious leadership contest, bickering candidates, the dilemma of trying to appease both working mums and professional women who are not mothers, swerving between left and centre left so continuously that you wouldn’t want to drive behind them, to poor old Ms Harman finding out that being interim leader is perhaps not all that it is cracked up to be. Basically, the nightmare did not end on the night of the General Election results, it merely began.

Firstly, I spotted this gem of an article last week: a certain Chuka Umunna (remember him?) evidently decided that venting his frustrations would be cathartic, as he branded his own party as acting akin to a ‘petulant child’. Of course, we are sweetly ignoring the act that merely a few days after announcing his intention to run for the leadership, he withdrew, citing the media intrusion into his private life as being overbearing. (Apparently, the media can be useful whenever you are trying to publicly complain about the very party you had previously aspired to lead.)

Anyway, the Shadow Business Secretary argued that Labour should not be ‘screaming at the electorate’ after its general election performance (and the less said about the party’s performance in Scotland, the better.) and should instead work together, listen to the public and regroup. Sage words indeed, but they are not being followed by Labour. If Labour politicians could pick a fight with one another about whether the chicken or the egg came first, they would, judging by their current labours.

Umunna was prompted to speak out following on from the spilt from within over the party’s stance on welfare cuts in the Budget. The aforementioned Budget has thoroughly divided the party, and Ms Harman has not helped matters after she stated Labour would not oppose all of the measures contained within it. Meanwhile, the Conservatives can simply watch and gloat from the government benches, knowing that they have Labour exactly where they want them. A broken party in disarray will not particularly appeal to the electorate, and this uninspiring leadership contest has Labour supporters wondering when exactly their party will have the keys to Number Ten again. Meanwhile, the Tory star is very much waxing as Labour’s wanes.

Not content with merely watching the shambles erupt within Labour following the Budget split, Chancellor Osborne sought to rub salt into the wounds by urging moderate Labour MPs to support his Budget plans, because the public largely supports the plans. Ouch indeed, because this is a casual reminder that the public did not vote for a Labour government or a Labour Budget. Harman herself had argued that the public had sent a message to Labour at the General Election, especially on welfare – before she was forced to retreat by agreeing to table a ‘reasonable amendment’ to the clamour of not just her fellow MPs, but from the leadership candidates, too. Consequently, Labour can be accused of backtracking, indecisiveness and not being prepared to face the reality of the very large Budget deficit. If Osborne is correct in his assessment that the public understand the need for cuts and begrudgingly accept his Budget, then Labour has once again failed to listen to the very people it needs to restore the party to power. (Ed Balls paid the price for dismissing the financial woes at the Treasury, evidently Labour MPs as a collective Parliamentary entity are not paying this warning any heed.)

It gets even better (from an analytical point of view, obviously not Labour’s) when the events of today are considered. The biggest revolt of the new Parliament thus far occurred – on the Labour side. Simply further chaos and shambles for the party after a fifth of its MPs voted against the Conservative government’s welfare cuts. The voting against was in clear defiance of a confused and indecisive  leadership line. Whilst the welfare reforms passed their first hurdle in the Commons by 308 votes to 124,  a total of 48 Labour rebels ignored an order from Harman to abstain.  Proving that the party is currently the living embodiment of Murphy’s Law, Labour’s woes were doubled (or rather, quadrupled) by the SNP, the Liberal Democrats, the Democratic Unionists and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, all voting against the bill. These four parties are apparently eager to exploit Harman’s decision to abstain, seeking to prove that Labour has forsaken its ideological roots.

And whilst the shadow cabinet obeyed their interim leader by abstaining on the vote -including Andy Burnham, who had previously described the reforms as ‘unsupportable’ – quelle surprise, the man  of the moment, Jeremy Corbyn, rebelled.

Budget splits, subsequent ‘emotional trauma’ and Harman’s headaches aside, there is perhaps one issue that can unite sections of the party – that of Corbyn and the ballot box. Umunna also criticised Jeremy Corbyn – the maverick leadership candidate who we now know he proving to be troublesome (re: worrisome) for the party. He said Corbyn was ‘weak on defence at a time when global insecurity is rising’ and backed ‘more generous social security payments for people who can work but refuse to work’ – aka, he is so left-wing he will be having us sliding out of Parliament before you can say ‘comrade’.

He isn’t alone, either – apparently Labour MPs are already weaving webs of plots and coups in preparation for Corbyn’s ascent. Having been backed by more constituency Labour party organisations than any of his rivals, there is now a real concern he may just do the unthinkable, and win. One Labour MP says this group of would-be plotters would be able to acquire the 47 names needed to trigger a coup if Corbyn became leader, arguing that they cannot sit back and watch if the Labour party was ‘hijacked’ after a ‘summer of madness’.

With the election to be held in September, it is going to be a long and uncomfortably hot summer for the Labour party. (Maybe they can hire Boris’ unused water cannon to cool down, should further arguments and back-biting unfold.)


2. I noticed a curious role-reversal in state foreign policy when I was studying abroad in America this year. The White House was adamant that America would not be engaging in military combat in Syria in order to defeat ISIS. It probably was discussed on average three times a week in national newspapers. How curious, that the country which urged us all to engage in the ‘War on Terror’ and invade Iraq and Afghanistan should so dramatically switch sides. (Obviously, I understand how these situations differ and of course, there is a different President and Administration in power. Nevertheless, the US does tend to lead the world in the promotion of military engagement.)

I thought I would arrive home to more of the same, the standard British line of ‘no guns, no troops, no war’. However, it appears that the UK could in fact be preparing to don the boots of its American allies and head off to Syria. What a topsy turvy world we do live in.

Lord Richards, an ex-chief of the Armed Forces recently remarked that Britain must accept that ‘sooner or later’ ground troops and tanks will have to be sent into combat to tackle ISIS. This means the country will need to adopt a war mentality and rethink current military strategy. He went on to state that infamous phrase: there will have to be boots on the ground.

Normally, such call to arms from former military experts would make David Cameron hurry to deliver a speech about defeating ISIS from within, tackling extremism at home, etc. etc – essentially ruling out boots on the ground. But not now. Such words actually come at a time when Mr Cameron has changed his own tune – his speech from yesterday demonstrates how he is prepared to fully engage with ISIS, with British pilots now a step closer to joining their American peers to carry out air-strikes. (See my round-up of the news here.)

It is all well and good to stir the military heartbeat of the nation and pledge to ensure good triumphs over evil, but what about the legality of it? There is a teeny tiny hurdle for Cameron to leap over: that of Parliament. He himself had to acknowledge this – he may have promised the US that the UK will assist them in tackling ISIS via coalition air-strikes, but he admitted that he would need to seek Parliamentary permission, first.

It all comes back to Constitutional law and those two little, but oh so legally important words: parliamentary sovereignty. 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. Who says that they have changed their minds? A revised Parliamentary landscape lies before Mr Cameron, and he is free from coalition with his majority. But it a slim one, and who knows what rebellious backbenchers and frustrated Opposition opponents may do?

What doesn’t help matters is that poor old Fallon, the Defence Secretary, had to face the (Parliamentary) music yesterday and defend an American programme in which embedded British pilots secretly conducted bombing raids against Islamic State over Syria – without parliamentary approval. Ouch.

Cameron will need the support of Labour if – as expected – he goes to Parliament after the summer break to seek authorisation to expand British air-strikes against Isis into Syria. But with Labour arguing yesterday that the government’s lack of openness would undermine public confidence, and Shadow defence secretary Vernon Coaker saying the government had ‘no intention’ of telling Parliament about the UK’s involvement, Cameron may have a fight on his hands. Perhaps boots on the ground starts at home, namely in the House of Commons, first?


3. Osborne may be gleefully milking Labour’s disarray in relation to his Budget, but he cannot forget that his Budget actually has to work, i.e be balanced. As such, he is apparently seeking to raise billions through the sale of public sector assets and land. Consequently, he launched a shiny new spending review (because we all love reviews, don’t you know) which will now aim to find another £20 billion from across various unprotected departments in a process due to end in November.

He may have received praise for policies contained within his Budget, including the living wage and those polices may reap dividends politically, too – see Labour’s endless cycle of bickering and leadership woes. However, Osborne cannot enjoy the plaudits, as he now faces a new battle to measure public opinion and gain political and public support as he begins the search for departmental spending cuts designed to reduce the UK’s deficit over the next four years. Just when he thought he could take a summer breather, too.

Both the Mail and The Telegraph point to land sales, the latter stating how in an unprecedented move, departments will be instructed to sell off government-owned properties to fund 150,000 new homes by 2020. The government owns £300 billion of land and buildings across the country, with the Ministry of Defence alone owning around 1 per cent of all UK land.

For law students such as myself who may still be suffering from PTSD after studying Land Law modules, and for students in general, there comes another element to this. The Budget is still be closely scrutinised, and if you are studying in England and Wales, the cost of obtaining your university degree will now rise by £6,000 for middle-earners . This is due to the salary level at which graduates have to start paying back their student loans being frozen. Joy of joys. I don’t know about you, but as a student myself, already panicking about the lack of graduate opportunities and/or the over-saturated graduate market for this chosen profession, I am so utterly ecstatic to learn that the government believes I should be paying more.

Remember the days when the benefits of gaining a university education were extolled, and the calls for such education to be affordable for all? Yes, I had quite forgotten, too.


4.  A whimsical chuckle from myself issued this afternoon, after I read via The Times that the Prime Minister is seeking to tackle segregated communities. (The wry humour comes from my geographical location and the history of same.)

David Cameron delivered a speech which sought to roll out a five-year programme, aiming to tackle Islamist extremism and highlighting the failure of integration. Unsurprisingly (to everyone except Cameron and his speech writers, apparently) the speech and the programme it launched has attracted a wide reaction in Muslim communities and elsewhere. And by wide reaction, I mean criticism and cries of discrimination and/or prejudice.

After suggesting that housing estates and schools dominated by a single Muslim community must become more ethnically mixed to end segregation and promote closer-knit communities, Cameron has been accused of social engineering. Muslim communities, already frustrated with accusations that they are not doing enough to combat extremism and deter young Muslims from joining ISIS, are not going to be impressed.

Mr Cameron, come on over to Northern Ireland , we’ll show you how it is done. (Or not.)


5. Remember that time I discussed (see number five)  MP’s salaries, and the announcement of an increase brought forth by IPSA?

Well, I had mentioned on Twitter that I was interested to see whether MPs, whether individually or as a collective party line, would announce their intention to either refuse their pay increase or donate the increase to charity. After all, at a time of austerity, cuts and a fragile economy making the average worker’s pocket rather tight, what political party wants to disillusion and annoy the electorate by happily collecting a generous pay cheque?

Not the SNP or several Northern Irish parties, apparently. The astute and wily Celtic nations are seizing the chance to put the larger English parties under pressure, after announcements that they will not be accepting their pay increases.

The SNP MPs will be donating their £7,000 increases to charity. Whilst MPs cannot opt out of the rise, which is set automatically, they obviously can do what they desire with the money upon receiving it. Thus, the SNP representation at Westminster (or, given their size, the SNP invasion force) have been ordered by party leadership to donate their pay rises to charity.

Their Celtic cousins have also criticised the pay rise and state that they will not accept it. The SDLP trio are opposed, and have decided to donate the £7,000 increase to charity. Not wanting to be outdone by their Nationalist counterparts, Unionist representation at Westminster have also opposed the pay rise. The DUP are apparently going to table a meeting to discuss how best to proceed, and the UUP have, so far, merely publicly opposed the rise.

Given the dire financial situation facing Stormont regarding welfare reform bill inertia and daily accumulating fines imposed by the Treasury, perhaps Northern Irish MPs could indeed donate their rises to a charitable cause – Stormont.


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