Thursday, July 25, 2013

A revitalised monarchy fills the chasm left by Britain's dreary politicians

At not quite two days old, the new Prince is already a national debt-buster. Though hardly Keynes in nappies, the future king is doing his bit for the economy. Bells and cash registers ring in his honour as a jubilant (if hard-up) populace prepares to sink £243 million into buggies, booties and beer over the next fortnight. This monarch-in-waiting, ushered into the world by a proclamation on a golden easel and a tide of tweets, was born on a cusp of history and modernity.

His arrival heralded the legal change allowing a first-born daughter to be Queen. He will, assuming Commonwealth leaders concur, be free to marry someone of any faith or none. The country he will inherit will be a land of blazing summers and technological marvels, in which white Britons may be a minority.

Not long ago, republicans dreamed of another tweak. They imagined that by 2070, when this prince might expect to reign, Britain would have abolished an institution long stained by scandal. In 1817, the Morning Chronicle called upon royal bachelors to marry for the sake of the succession, imperilled because not one of the 56 grandchildren of George III was legitimate. In 1936, a king abdicated for love. In 1997, a prime minister bailed out the monarchy from what, under the modern media strobe light, seemed its gravest crisis.

Tony Blair, who announced in his first manifesto that “Labour has no plans to replace the monarchy”, helped rescue a Queen estranged from her people after Diana’s death. The Windsors never pardoned him for that PR feat and other perceived impertinences, leaving him – and Gordon Brown for good measure – off the guest list for Prince William’s wedding.

The nadir of royal fortunes, when only 48 per cent of Britons thought the nation would be worse off without the monarchy, gave way to a spike of popularity after the Queen’s Jubilee. The current carnival atmosphere, coupled with reverential BBC coverage of a future king’s birth, suggests that many voters, given a choice, might choose to hang on to their Royal family but dump their politicians.

While no monarchy dare rely on the vagaries of public opinion, the British model, dating back to King Egbert in the 9th century, has survived partly because it realises that republics take over only when monarchies have become unsustainable. Thus, the Royal family has changed, albeit in an incremental (some would say sclerotic) manner. The “magical monarchy” may, in the view of the constitutional historian, Vernon Bogdanor, end up as a “practical monarchy”.

That may not mean bicycles and bus passes, but it would rightly involve more scrutiny. By the time Baby Cambridge takes over, funding may be tighter and more transparent. It is hard to see how the king could continue to be head of an established Church to which most of his countrymen do not subscribe. Though flying cars and glass coaches may co-exist, and though birthright may still bedevil a fairer society, any shrewd monarch knows that survival depends on renewing one’s lifeline to the people.

Political leaders have yet to absorb that lesson. In piecemeal ways, such as bringing in gay marriage, David Cameron has altered Britain, but he has not changed a Tory party whose future is contested by an immutable old guard and a hard-edged group of newcomers who see the Eighties as a golden age that must be recreated if Britain is again to prosper.

For Labour, the Thatcher years led to what Stewart Wood, Ed Miliband’s senior strategist, calls “the exhaustion of the old settlement”. On Monday, shortly after the royal baby was born, Ed Miliband headed to a sweltering meeting room to explain how he planned to propel Labour into the 21st century. Ending the automatic affiliation of three million trade unionists and persuading them to opt in to party membership looks either bold or suicidal, since only one in eight Unite members polled by Lord Ashcroft plans to join Labour.

Mr Miliband, sleeves rolled up in shop-floor style, berated Lynton Crosby, the PM’s strategist, and “a politics that stinks”. While some trade unionists and activists applauded his changes, others in the audience warned of financial meltdown. Yet others reported apathy from voters who thought all political parties seemed the same. Those voices are the ones Mr Miliband should heed. Labour’s plan for primaries and community-based resurgence will be popular only if the wide swathe of voters he seeks to court think change has something to offer them.

This has been a grim few weeks for Labour. The senior figures heading off for holiday speaking reassuringly of a “brief Tory resurgence” and the “nasty politics” underpinning that recovery should be fearful. Labour’s lack of clear direction and Mr Miliband’s inability to define himself in the public’s mind have allowed Mr Crosby too often to use him as a blank screen on to which the Prime Minister can project the (unfair) picture of a weak and struggling leader.

However reckless Mr Miliband’s big idea may be, his sentiment is flawless. As he told his audience on Monday: “We want to let the people back in.” Inclusivity, or the semblance of it, has allowed the monarchy to reinvent itself down the ages, while the mausoleums of centralised politics have shut out an electorate that has learnt to glory in estrangement. Whether Mr Miliband can really throw open Fortress Labour depends on whether the people want to “come back in” or throw rocks from the perimeter fence.

Success or failure rests much less on his planned spring showdown over union reform than on whether he can now offer a life-changing deal to voters who, by and large, are more interested in Liam Gallagher and Nicole Appleton than the battered marriage of Mr Miliband and Len McCluskey. As the party leaders head off on holiday, with suitcases full of solemn beach reads and half-drafted conference speeches with gaps for the “policy nuggets” being gestated (they hope) in supportive think tanks, they should keep in their minds the image of a Britain whose emotions they rarely, if ever, witness at first hand.

This Britain is a nation of tolerant optimists, who cheer on Ashes victors even if they don’t like cricket, who laud a Tour de France winner even if they last cycled when three-speed Sturmey-Archer gear sets were cutting edge, and who smile on a royal birth even if they would have been content for the monarchy to expire with Ethelred the Redeless.

Some of those celebrating the arrival of the royal baby have the Union flag tattooed on their souls. For others, cupcakes, bunting and an event with which all citizens can identify help fill the chasm left by politicians who are struggling, and so far failing, to inspire hope for the future while touching human lives.

The monarchy is not simply the celebrity wing of the constitution, there to sell bibs and Babygros and appeal to the maudlin nature of sentimental crowds. As an emblem of stability and renewal in hard times, it is also proof that institutions that fail to modernise will surely die. For all its flaws, our monarchy has much to teach our politicians.


Five prison officers suspended after Lee Rigby murder suspect Michael Adebolajo loses two teeth 'in melee' at Belmarsh high-security wing

Suspending the officers was just a politically correct pretence that there was wrong on both sides

Five prison officers have been suspended after one of the men accused of hacking off-duty soldier Lee Rigby to death in Woolwich had two teeth knocked out.

The men were suspended from their duties from top-security Belmarsh Prison in south London after the alleged attack on Michael Adebolajo, 28, three days ago.

He had refused to obey officers’ instructions and had to be restrained, according to prison sources.

It is understood that five officers have to be on hand when Adebolajo leaves his cell.

Four of the officers were suspended on Thursday, while the fifth was suspended yesterday.

All of the officers are on full pay pending the results of the investigation.

Peter McParlin, chairman of the Prison Officers Association, accused the Ministry of Justice of over-reacting to the situation.

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: 'We have spoken to our members and on the basis of what our members have told us they have done absolutely nothing wrong.

'We are concerned that the Ministry of Justice have over-reacted due to the notoriety of this prisoner.'

Mr McParlin criticised the MoJ for failing to 'correct false reporting of the incident at Belmarsh.

He said restraint techniques were designed to minimise injuries to staff or prisoners 'but sometimes there are unforeseen consequences in any violent incident'.

Mr McParlin added: 'Some people have the idea that somehow it's a sitcom like Porridge. I'm afraid the reality of the modern prison system is far different from that.

He told the Times: ‘We feel that the Ministry of Justice have let the staff down here.

‘They have suspended five of our members but that does not necessarily mean they are guilty of anything.’

Adebolajo’s brother Jeremiah said Adebolajo telephoned after the incident, saying that he was bleeding and had lost the teeth.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Justice confirmed that police are investigating the incident.

She said: ‘I can confirm five members of staff have been suspended while there is a police investigation on going.’  She added that this was ‘not unusual’.

Adebolajo has been charged with murder and possession of a revolver, and also charged with the attempted murder of two police officers.

His alleged accomplice, Michael Adebowale, is charged with murder and possession of a firearm for the May 22 attack outside Woolwich barracks.

In a statement earlier this week, the POA said the officers involved 'strenuously deny any wrongdoing' and that the prisoner had been 'subjected to restraint using techniques' which are 'only used where necessary'.

It added: 'The POA will be supporting them legally and emotionally during this difficult time.

'The use of restraint is only used where necessary when dealing with incidents up and down the country.

'The POA will fully co-operate with any police investigation and are hopeful that this matter will be resolved quickly and we expect the officers to be completely exonerated.'

Adebolajo, from Romford, east London, complained about his treatment at the hands of prison staff during a court appearance last month.

During the June 5 hearing via video-link from the prison, he was flanked by prison officers in full riot gear.

Belmarsh staff asked for him to be handcuffed on the basis he was ‘unpredictable’ and had refused to comply with their orders.

The judge, Mr Justice Sweeney, terminated the video-link after Adebolajo launched into a series of rants against prison staff.

The unit in which he is being detained has the highest security classification in the country, and holds notorious terror suspects and dangerous felons.

Inmates have included Al Qaeda preacher Abu Qatada until his deportation earlier this month, and fanatic Abu Hamza, who was extradited to the US last year.

The cost of keeping each inmate in the unit is estimated at £65,000 a year.

A November 2009 inspection report on Belmarsh criticised the ‘extremely high’ amount of force used to control inmates at the prison, and said large numbers of inmates claimed they had been intimidated by prison staff.

A Prison Service spokesman said: ‘The police are investing an incident which took place at HMP Belmarsh on July 17.

‘It would be inappropriate to comment while the investigation is ongoing.’

A Scotland Yard spokesman said: ‘We can confirm that an allegation of assault was passed to the Metropolitan Police on July 17 by Belmarsh Prison. An investigation has been started.’

Rigby, 25, a father of one from Middleton, Rochdale, died from multiple wounds after he was attacked in the street.


Coverup:  The 102 top firms who hired hackers... but the police won't name them

The true extent of the ‘secret’ phone-hacking scandal involving law firms, insurers and high-profile business people was laid bare last night.

More than 100 companies and individuals are suspected of fuelling the trade in illicit information obtained by hacking, blagging and theft.

The Serious Organised Crime Agency finally handed an explosive list containing 102 names to MPs yesterday.  But, to the fury of members of the Commons Home Affairs Committee, it insisted that it remain secret to protect those involved.

Last month it emerged that as long ago as 2008 Soca compiled a dossier outlining how firms and individuals hired ‘unscrupulous’ private investigators.

They broke the law to obtain sensitive information including mobile phone records, bank statements and other personal data.

However, the report – which showed the practices went far wider than the media – was suppressed and did not form part of Lord Justice Leveson’s inquiry. He refused to admit the documentation, saying it was outside his narrow terms of reference.

Critics question why the media has been the subject of a public inquiry and multi-million-pound criminal investigation while others ‘got away with it’.

Lawyers, insurers, money exchanges and high-profile individuals fuelling the trade for sensitive information were never prosecuted.

But journalists were dragged out of their beds at dawn, arrested and questioned over allegations of phone hacking and bribing public officials.

No one at Soca appeared to push the report forward as three Scotland Yard inquiries focused almost entirely on the media.

Last night, after weeks of demands from MPs for the identities of businesses and individuals involved to be published, Soca finally agreed to let the Home Affairs Committee see the list – but only under strict rules of confidentiality.

It demanded the list be ‘kept in a safe in a locked room, within a secure building and that the document should not be left unattended on a desk at any time’.

Initially, Soca wanted only committee chairman Keith Vaz to have access to the documents.

Officials claimed that publishing the names could harm the commercial interests of those involved and even ‘breach their human rights’.

In theory, the move prevents the committee from making public the names or referring to them in any subsequent report.

But last night Mr Vaz, who has led questioning of Soca’s shortcomings, said he would try to find a way of releasing the names.

He said: ‘Those companies or individuals who either instructed private investigators to break the law or did nothing to stop them must be held to account.’

Mr Vaz said police had claimed any publicity could undermine ongoing or future criminal investigations, but added: ‘These events took place up to five years ago. I will be writing to the police to ask in how many cases their investigations are ongoing.’

Committee member James Clappison attacked the secret arrangements, saying: ‘I do not believe the full extent of phone hacking has been brought out.

‘We need complete transparency and the public needs to know what has been going on. The public were very concerned about the original phone-hacking revelations. There is no reason they should not be concerned about these new revelations.’

Pressure is now mounting on Soca to explain why, at the height of the phone-hacking scandal in 2011, it made no attempt to alert ministers that lawyers, insurance companies and other blue-chip firms were also involved.

In an exchange with Tory MP Nicola Blackwood, Soca director general Trevor Pearce admitted the Home Office had not been contacted to highlight the 2008 report. He said it had been passed to then Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, and that had been considered sufficient. But Mrs Smith and the Labour government had departed, and the current Home Secretary, Theresa May, had no way of knowing what had been going on.

It meant that when the Leveson terms of reference were being drawn up, ministers were in the dark about the activities of legal firms, insurers and others.

Last night Miss Blackwood said: ‘In a separate report in 2010, Soca identified private investigators as one of four key sources of police corruption.  ‘I cannot understand why they did not make these points to the Home Office when the Leveson Inquiry terms of reference were being set.’


Making poor people poorer

Why do those concerned about low incomes never criticise sin taxes?

The UK Office for National Statistics (ONS) has released a new report on the state of household finances. The Effects of Taxes and Benefits on Household Income, 2011/2012 contains many valuable nuggets of information and different commentators across the political spectrum have found something to gloat about.

So, for example, in a pointed prod at left-wing journalist Owen Jones, Toby Young in the Telegraph blogs about the fact that income inequality has fallen in recent years, to the point where one measure of inequality, the Gini coefficient, is now back to 1986 levels. On the other hand, left-leaning Twitter users have noted that tax takes a bigger slice of income for the poorest 20 per cent of the population (36.7 per cent of gross income) than it does for the top 20 per cent of earners (34.5 per cent of gross income). (See this snapshot from the report.)

How can that be? The difference comes from indirect taxes - that is, taxes on expenditure rather than income and property. On income taxes alone, the richest 20 per cent pay three-and-a-half times as much tax, as a proportion of income, than the poorest. Yet that progressive taxation is completely reversed by the effect of tax on spending. The biggest expenditure tax is value-added tax (VAT) at 20 per cent. For poorer people, over 10 per cent of their gross household income goes on VAT. So cutting VAT would be a big boost to lower-income groups.

But nearly seven per cent of gross income for poorer people goes on what might be loosely defined as ‘sin’ tax - that is, tax on boozing, smoking and driving. If you really wanted to help out households that are strapped for cash, you could start by reducing taxes that are justified as an attempt to change our bad habits. However, it seems unlikely that anti-poverty groups will have much to say on the matter.



Political correctness is most pervasive in universities and colleges but I rarely report the  incidents concerned here as I have a separate blog for educational matters.

American "liberals" often deny being Leftists and say that they are very different from the Communist rulers of  other countries.  The only real difference, however, is how much power they have.  In America, their power is limited by democracy.  To see what they WOULD be like with more power, look at where they ARE already  very powerful: in America's educational system -- particularly in the universities and colleges.  They show there the same respect for free-speech and political diversity that Stalin did:  None.  So look to the colleges to see  what the whole country would be like if "liberals" had their way.  It would be a dictatorship.



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