‘What would Jesus do?’-Occupy London: The Camp, the clergy and the crisis of conscience

‘A week is a long time in politics’. Given the pace of developments surrounding the Occupy London camp outside St Pauls Cathedral, one might be tempted to say Harold Wilson’s famous utterance has never looked more apt. Had this article been written just two days ago it would have had a completely different tone and would probably look laughably out of step with developments. If events continue at this pace, it probably still will. 

Only last week it seemed the end was nigh for the Occupy London protest camp pitched outside St Pauls Cathedral, whose authorities seemed determined to follow the line set by the Corporation of London’s legal team in serving the protestors an eviction notice which would result in their forcible removal, should they refuse to disperse peacefully. At the start of this week however, in the wake of the resignation of Graham Knowles, the dean of St Pauls, the church performed a complete about face and suspended its legal action against the protest camp. Yesterday the Corporation of London met with protestors and agreed to their presence on the site until the New Year. A battle decisively won by the protestors in the face of the juggernaut of the Corporations legal team, and an astonishing u-turn from the Church after two high profile resignations in what amounts to a de facto crisis of conscience. So how exactly was this remarkable turnaround achieved, and where does it leave us?

Stand-offs between protestors in occupation and landowners enacting a legal process to remove them are nothing new (see for example Brian Haw’s occupation of parliament square and the protracted legal battle to remove him). What is distinctive in this case is the pivotal role of the church as an interested third party and effective King maker. In essence the relationship is a triangular one, with the protestors and the Corporation firmly entrenched in opposition and the church drifting somewhere between the two, with the power to throw its weight behind either party swinging the battle in their favour. At the time of writing the church has swung dramatically towards the protestors and left the Corporation in an isolated position, forcing yesterday’s concessions. 

Not to do disservice to the gallantry of the protestors or the might of the city, but it is the role of the church which is truly fascinating in this saga, both as an interested party and the deciding power. The protestor’s aims are clear enough, to take back a part of the city given over to the rapacious demands of trading and finance and reclaim it for the humane purposes of dialogue, interaction and debate. Similarly the city is clear in its aims; rid the streets of these troublesome good for nothings and restore order to the streets of the square mile. 

The church however is in a rather more complex position. For centuries it has occupied a place in what George Monbiot has dubbed ‘the dark heart of Britain, where democracy goes to die’. Monbiot is referring to the disturbingly unaccountable Corporation of the city of London (ostensibly a local council like any other, but one in which businesses obtain votes equivalent to citizens and councillors are unelected). The corporation appeals to ancient rights and its financial might to justify its position above the regulatory powers and official scrutiny of the government of Great Britain. It is afforded rights and privileges starkly out of step with a modern democracy and provided a fertile seed bed for the deregulation which precipitated the financial crisis we are still labouring to escape. The church has colluded in this medieval system for centuries and indeed many from its ranks go on to become

the unelected councillors who represent the corporation. It is for this reason presumably that when the occupation started, the church threw it its lot with the Corporation in determining to remove the troublemakers from its doorstep. 

But then came the crisis of conscience; first one, then two senior members of the St Pauls hierarchy tendered the resignations. And of the protestors, city and church, the church blinked first. Stepping into the power vacuum, the Bishop of London made a dramatic and very public about face. Sensing that the symbolism of the church endorsing the forcible and probably violent removal of peaceful protestors was wrong, he suspended the eviction process, leaving the Corporation in an awkward legal position. 

I’m no man of religion, but it is easy to understand the moral crisis that precipitated the Bishop’s decision. Despite being in the sway of the Corporation it is clear that the church stands for many of the same values as the protestors.  One need only turn to some of the writings and pronouncements of the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams to see that the anti-capitalist agenda of the protestors has a significant overlap with many of the bible’s oldest teachings. Williams has argued that the current system of massive financial trading and speculation which underpins the global capitalist order is fatally flawed. He has denounced its inherent risks and in built inequality.  He has warned against our tendency to reify the system itself; turning ‘the market’ and ‘capital’ into abstractions with the autonomous capacity to regulate themselves when in fact they are only the logical outcome of our inputs and designs, destined to fail if the calculations are wrong. Any one of these arguments could have come from the mouths of the protestors at Occupy London. What we might be about to witness is a powerful alliance between secular and religious critiques of capitalism, and so much the better. 

The leaders of our economies are trapped into the logic of the old system, the logic of TINA (there is no alterative) the logic which dictates the only way forward is technocratic tinkering. This is what we are witnessing at the protracted crisis summits of Euro and G20 leaders: in the face of financial Armageddon they seem determined not to contemplate radical alternatives. In an astute commentary for The Spectator Williams has argued that the bogus science of free market economics- which we have placed so much faith in- needs a strand of militant scepticism such as that which religion is subjected to; a Hitchins or Dawkins to debunk the gross myths our financial world is built upon. This is precisely what the Occupy London camp offers us. A space for dialogue and new ideas about the way our financial system should be run, growing symbolically at the very centre of the old system. It is both Hegelian and poetic in equal measures. And dissatisfaction at the current financial system is growing. What we are seeing at St Pauls is hopefully the beginning of a far wider dialogue about the relationship between the financial system and human interest and welfare. 

So what’s next for the Occupy London camp? Public assurances would suggest they will get their wish and stay until New Year, but I wouldn’t bank upon it. As the past weeks have shown the triangular nature of the dispute renders it highly volatile. For the protestors, the church’s crisis of confidence was timely indeed; snatching victory from the jaws of defeat. The importance of these developments should not be underestimated; at the very least a moribund institution has been shaken from its slumber and against the background of financial turmoil, a bright light of hope has been lit at the heart of our financial district.

你好(nǐ hǎo), deus ex machina?

After months of struggling to find a means of fixing its economic situation through internal means, the European Union now has a potential saviour from the outside; namely, China. Speculation about negotiations was sparked when Nicolas Sarkozy called his Chinese counterpart Hu Jintao on October 27th. The Chinese President expressed hope that the measures agreed at the Brussels summit would be effective in stabilizing the Eurozone.

Klaus Regling, head of the European Financial Stability Facility, more commonly known as the bail-out fund for the Eurozone, visited Beijing on Friday, October 28th to meet with officials from the Chinese central bank and finance ministry. According to Regling, he wanted to find out how the fund could structure investments to attract outside investment. He also made it known that the Greek bailout deal was an exceptional case; one that he saw no need to be repeated for other nations. Regling did not expect to reach a conclusive deal with China, but expected the country to continue buying bonds issued by the fund. The visit was merely a “regular consultation” on these investments. Aside from several hundred million worth of triple-A rated bonds issued by the EFSF, China owns an estimated $800 billion worth of euro assets in its $3.2 trillion foreign exchange reserves.

Chinese aid could secure great diplomatic capital for the country and challenge the dominance of the US dollar in world trade, satisfying a domestic agenda. The opportunity to earn international prestige is also a major motivation for Beijing, as it is already a regional power known for helping its neighbouring countries in Asia. The Chinese boost of the EFSF could be about 70 billion Euros – a small portion of Beijing’s has more than 3 trillion US dollars’ worth of foreign reserves. 

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Jiang Yu expressed great hopes for the success of the bailout deal’s promotion of European integration and sustainable economic development in the Eurozone. But Zhu Guangyao, the Chinese Vice-Minister of Finance, intends to wait for the technicalities to be clear and serious studies to be carried out before any investment decision can be reached. China needs guarantees before it decides – and incentives, World Bank president Robert Zoellick expects. 

The EU is China’s chief trading partner and the country has already been exposed to the euro. Many European businesses continue their complaints about unfair trade barriers in China and the country´s trade growth has been reduced due to the economic crisis in the West. Nonetheless, China remains the second-largest economy and hopes to be recognized as a market economy by the EU through financial aid.

Is it of any consequence that turnout has fallen in recent UK elections. How might this be resolved in future? by Calum Setterington, Project Director

Over the last sixty years it is indisputable that turnout has fallen in recent UK elections, with highest turnout in General Elections at 84% in 1951 and lowest at 59.4% in 2005 (Budge et al, 2007. p.352). There are a number of consequences of falling turnout, leading to a less representative government, stemming from disengagement and misunderstanding amongst the electorate. In order to understand how this must be resolved this essay must examine the reasons for a decline in turnout which range from political scandals to excessive media coverage. Specific elections including; 1955, October 1974 and 1997 (Budge et al, 2007. P.352), have experienced significant reductions in turnout in comparison to the previous election. The elections of 1979 (Budge et al, 2007) and 2010 (UK Political Info, 2011) go against the trend, in fact, are amongst the elections with the largest increase in percentage turnout. There are a number of proposed solutions to reversing the decline including extending the franchise to younger voters (Jones et al, 2010), introducing compulsory voting (Budge et al, 2007 p.355) and the integration of social media (Brooks, 2010).

            Declining turnout can be described as a cyclical process which is of severe consequence. The process starts with the decline in percentage turnout from one election, to an increase in disengagement amongst the electorate, to increasing confusion on policy leading to less people being interested in politics, to reduced political debate in communities, which, in turn leads to a further decline in turnout. Denver (2003, p.193) argues that this can be explained by the “disengagement” and “alienation” of the electorate. The consequences of this are severe, both in the short term and the long term. Firstly, fewer people are electing our representatives; therefore our government is less representative, whereby policy will favour a smaller percentage of the electorate. Secondly, the electorate are not voting on a European level where voting has “…never been the same” (Jones et al, 2010 p.164) which is worrying a significant numbers of laws applied in the UK are devised in Europe. Thirdly, a demographic imbalance in voter turnout is clear, with only 37% of eighteen to twenty four year olds voting in 2005 (Brooks, 2010). As we go through the natural demographic shift this is worrying for democracy in the UK. Overall, these factors will ultimately lead to devaluing the democracy of the UK.

            Many in the electorate find it hard to relate to their politicians, arguing that they are not representative. Firstly, this can be seen through the percentage of MPs that are University educated in comparison to that of the electorate. In 2005, 64% of Labour MPs had a University education compared to 81% of Conservatives, whereas only 37% of the electorate had a University education (Jones et al, 2010. p.169). It is suggested the best route into politics is to be born male, white, English, have attended university, acquire a patron and be given a safe seat (Jones et al, 2010. p.170), all of which is true for David Cameron, George Osborne and William Hague. However, this is clearly not realistically possible for most members of the public, and is an example of the “alienation” Denver refers to in his assessment of the electorate.

            Between 1992 and 2001 turnout fell from 77.7% to 54.9% (Budge et al, 2007.p.352) which Park (2010) suggests can be attributed to the political parties appearing increasingly similar on policy, making it difficult for the electorate to differentiate between the parties. This is best illustrated by Labour becoming New Labour with a shift to the centre ground under Tony Blair (Denver, 2003. p.36). The consequence of this is confusion and frustration amongst the electorate, leading to a reduction in turnout.

            Membership of parties has also decreased. This is shown by the fact that in 1964 42% of the electorate could identify with parties whereas, in 2005 the figure dropped to 10% (Jones et al, 2010. p.207). Membership of parties has fallen significantly with 1950s Conservative membership at 3,000,000 yet only 200,000 members voting in the leadership contest of 2005 (Jones et al, 2007. p.207). The combination of confusion on identifying what parties stand for and declining membership links to support the argument for a crisis in conventional democracy (Jones et al, 2010. p.176) another consequence of falling turnout at UK elections.

            A common reason for not voting is that they do not feel their vote matters. A referendum in 2011 on voting reform showed a general consensus to stay with first past the post the system does have faults. First past the post is best explained as a system where the country is divided into single-member parliamentary constituencies and the winner is the candidate with the largest number of votes, whether a majority is gained or not (Jones et al, 2010. p.644). In 2001, Labour, the winning party only gained 40.7% of the vote, meaning that 59.3% of the votes returned no government positions. This can be frustrating to the electorate and lead people to believe that their votes are being wasted, which in turn may lead to them deciding not to vote next time.

            The media also have an effect on turnout and the political process where the electorate become overexposed to political events.It is argued that that British voter is, in fact, subjected to a “heavy barrage of propaganda from all major parties” (Leonard et al, 2001. p.177). In addition, Denver supports this by suggesting that television has “utterly dominated” (Denver, 2003. p.134) the electorate highlighting how excessive exposure to media coverage can in fact disengage the electorate.

            A consequence of elections too close together is voter fatigue (Dalton, 2006. p.40). Following highs of 83.6% in 1950 and 84.0% (Budge et al, 2007. p.352) in 1951 it is clear that the electorate in 1955 have become frustrated with the political system as percentage voter turnout has fallen by 7.2% (Budge et al, 2007. p.352) which is amongst the most severe drops between 1950 and 2010. This is again seen between the February 1974 and October 1974, where a minority government from February failed resulting in a drop of 8.1% in turnout (Budge et al, 2007. p.352).. Falling turnout here, can be explained as a consequence of going to the polls too often..

            Although it is clear that between 1950 and 2010 turnout declined, there have been occasions where turnout has increased marginally, suggesting that the electorate still care, and therefore the consequences of lower turnout may not be as severe as originally thought. Following the winter of discontent in 1979 turnout increased by 5.1% (Budge et al, 2007. p.352) electing Mrs Thatcher, highlighting how the electorate still wish to voice their concerns in the political arena. In 2010, two million voters more cast their ballots than in 2005 (Jones et al, 2010. p.A11) expressing their opinions over the economic situation and the MPs expenses scandal (Park, 2010).

            With knowledge of the causes and consequences of declining turnout, notably a downward spiral of declining participation, it is imperative that solutions are examined, so that consequences can be prevented from becoming an irreversible reality (Park, 2010).

            A lot of focus has been placed making it easier for voters to vote, which Budge supports (2007, p.355), reducing the ‘costs’ of voting (Denver, 2003.p.40) including polling stations in supermarkets, extending polling stations over a number of days and telephone/internet voting as well extending the number of postal votes. Denver’s argument is that these suggestions are “…merely fiddling at the edges” (2003, p.4) and whilst there are other factors, one must disagree with this statement as members of the electorate, as human beings, act to make rational decisions, and the easier it is to vote, the more likely they are to.

            A major problem is the low percentage turnout amongst the youngest members of the electorate with only 22% of students registered to vote in 2005 (Brooks, 2010)  of which only 37% voted in the 2005 general election supporting the argument that younger voters are disengaged and feel alienated (Denver p.193). The political community needs to connect with younger voters on a level that they are accustomed to, which can be achieved through social media and blogs. For example, blogs such as Political Promise (2010) and the Young Political Bloggers (2011) aim to engage more young people in politics through education, debate and discussion. Moreover, in October 2011 MPs voted to allow them to use Twitter during debates in the chamber (BBC News, 2011). Moreover, many young people cannot identify with politics or politicians and therefore, a low-cost, high access solution to this would be to include a civics programme, like that used at Repton School (2009) that would educate young people in the basics and fundamentals of governing the UK. This in turn, would hopefully increase turnout amongst our youngest in the electorate, as they would have a basic understanding so that they feel they may be in a position to make an informed decision..

            Extending the franchise to sixteen year olds (Jones et al, 2010. p.132) has been suggested in recent years. With arguments such as you can join the Army at sixteen and have sexual relationships consensually at sixteen yet why can a sixteen year old not vote? However, this alone is not a realistic solution. It is seen as a “…hopeless cause” (Brooks, 2010) when standing alone as all it would do is show lower figures of turnout, as many youngsters would not vote as they are not informed or interested. By itself this is a weak solution (Denver, 2003. p.40) and for it to be successful would need to be combined with increased political education and involvement.

            However, the issue does not solely lie with the youngest members of the electorate, many people in older age group categories are also not voting, and in increasing numbers. Analysts of turnout need to notice this, and not get sidetracked by low turnout amongst the young when putting forward solutions.

            Many argue that they do not feel represented by our representatives. Although parliament has become more representative with 22% of MPs being female (Patan, 2010) twenty out of six hundred and fifty (UK Parliament, 2010) were educated at Eton College (Patan, 2010), a disproportionate number. In order to entice greater participation the political parties should try and recruit more politicians from across society including based on gender and race.

            Despite the fact that the average MP works an average of sixty nine hours per week (BBC News, 2011) on average 67% is spent in Westminster and 33% in their constituencies (BBC News, 2011). With this is mind, it is understandable why members of constituencies feel distanced from their representatives. A solution for this is to shift the balance so that MPs can work in London, but spend more time in their constituencies making them more visible in the communities and helping the communities. If this were to become the case, then it is most likely that more people will vote in elections, based on the visibility of their politicians, removing the myth that politicians are only in the constituencies around the general election.

            Switching to a system of compulsory voting (Jones et al, 2010. p.132) is another proposed solution to reversing the decline in percentage voter turnout and in fact has been supported by former minister Geoff Hoon (Budge et al, 2007. p.355). Whilst this would increase turnout to almost 100%, voters would still have the option of spoiling their ballot paper and therefore defeat the point of compulsory voting. Therefore the issue is not in getting people to vote but getting to use their vote wisely.

            It is indisputable that turnout has fallen in recent UK elections. The consequences are severe and include continuing lower interest and participation, which if unabated could result in government becoming less and less representative, leading to a continual decline in turnout. There is no single solution to this, however extending the franchise to sixteen year olds and introducing compulsory voting would be of limited use. Instead politicians need to work on greater transparency, reinstalling trust, making campaigns more relevant and clear as well clear political education for our young people. However, this decline in turnout must be halted and reversed in order to protect the conventional democracy in the UK.

Is there a need for political parties in the United Kingdom? by Calum Setterington, Project Director – the Young Political Bloggers

Political parties are organised groups of people who share a common ideology and policy ideas (Jones et al, 2010 p.648). They have the aims of creating and implementing policy, mobilising support, recruiting and training politicians (Budge et al 2004 p.348) but, according to Ware, most importantly, the desire to form a government or opposition (Ware, 2004 p.2). Despite a decline in party membership in the United Kingdom, for example, Conservative membership was three million in 1950 (Jones et al., 2010 p.207) falling to 290,000 according to Toby Helm in 2006 (Toby Helm, Daily Telegraph. 27th December 2006 Accessed: 24th September 2011). Parties still have a very important role to play in British Politics primarily because they allow participation, provide leadership, structure and direction working on a wide range of issues and policies. However, most importantly, in comparison, a parliament of independents would be chaotic and slow whereas a non-party state would limit involvement of the electorate and average citizen.

With an extensive range of public services, population of 61.838 million (World Bank Indicators 2008) and six hundred and fifty constituencies (Jones et al. 2010 p.304) governing the United Kingdom is extremely complex. However, political parties provide leadership, structure and direction through policy most notably from headquarters. For example, both Labour and Conservative headquarters provide research assistants, training for campaigns and at a local level communication and organisation (Budge et al. 2004 p.379). It is this level of organisation and co-ordination that highlights the importance of political parties in the United Kingdom, rallying support and mobilising political actors and in governing the country. In order to make changes, the proposed changes have to have the support of majority. Although, occasionally parliamentarians vote against their party, for instance in the second Labour government of 2001 to 2005 back bench MPs voted against the party on two hundred and fifty nine occasions (Budge et al. 2004 p.340) the party structure and whip system ensures, on the whole, that party policies are implemented and the business of government can take place efficiently and effectively, showing the need for parties in the United Kingdom.

In terms of participation, parties through their activities provide an opportunity for actors to develop policy and push these policies through at all levels, whether it be at a local, regional or national level. Political parties allow the electorate to engage more actively in the political process through party membership. Membership of associations provides a formal organisation for debate and the formulation of policy at grassroots level, which in turn will surface at national party level. Moreover, local associations are incredibly important, as they nominate their candidates, who then if successful go to parliament, and if the Prime Minister is unpopular then the MPs may become rebellious with the support of the association, undermining the Prime Minister’s position, therefore highlighting the significance of political parties in the United Kingdom.

Although membership maybe decreasing (Jones et al. 2010 p.207) and it is suggested the RSPB has more membership than the three main political parties (Jones et al. 2010 p.208), these pressure groups whilst may influence policy do not implement it and are purely focussed on one or two issues therefore would not be suitable for government.

One alternative is a parliament of independents but this is not practical or realistic. Independents by nature tend to be focussed on a single issue or local issues. Moreover, Independents do not have the ability to develop and implement policy across the spectrum, an area that political parties function in very well. From a practical point of view, if there was a majority of independents it would take significantly longer to push through legislation, in some cases with legislation becoming ineffective.

In addition, another alternative is a system where political parties are not allowed, such as the United Arab Emirates (Wikipedia Date Accessed: 24th September 2011). Instead the senior government positions are held by the ruling families, for example the UAEs Supreme Council consists of the leaders of the seven Emirates (UAE Government. Date Accessed: 24th September 2011). This system does not allow participation of the average citizen, with decisions made at the highest level. In contrast political parties in the United Kingdom allow participation – a factor of great importance.

Overall, there are a number of reasons why political parties are needed in the United Kingdom providing structure, direction and leadership in a complex environment so that government can be effective and efficient. The alternatives would limit participation, a key feature of democracy, and slow down the process significantly creating logistical and procedural chaos.

Fifth time a charm?

Basque separatist group Eta announced its decision to stop its armed activity permanently last Thursday. The announcement was met with much rejoicing from the Spanish public; according to Eta, this presents faced “a historic opportunity to obtain a just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict” for them. Now insisting that it would campaign through peaceful means, the group hopes for a response with “a process of direct dialogue” from the Spanish and French governments. This means a considerable step towards a permanent truce. The decision was made after a peace conference in San Sebastian, which Eta said convinced it to make the long-awaited announcement.

Euskadi Ta Askatasuna (“Basque Homeland and Freedom”) is a Basque nationalist and separatist organisation, the main organisation of the Basque National Liberation Movement and the most important participant in the Basque conflict. Its ultimate aim is the formation of an independent Basque state in northern Spain and south-western France. It declared ceasefires several times previously and broke it each time in 1989, 1996, 1998 and 2006.  The ceasefire of 5 September 2010 is still in effect, with the recent declaration tying directly into it.

More than 700 Eta members are incarcerated in prisons in Spain, France and various other countries. Spain, the EU and the USA consider it a terrorist group. An example of Eta´s activity art the “3/11” attacks in 2004, when Eta planted bombs on commuter trains in Madrid and killed two hundred people, with several others injured. The group’s primary targets were usually government officials. Over the past 43 years, 829 people have been recorded as killed by the terrorist group.

In recent years, Eta has lost not only the majority of its members, but also the support of the majority of the Basque citizens. Its own political wing Batasuna, along with several affiliated organisations, made a public call for the end of Eta violence. Many of the imprisoned Eta members also expressed support for an older document calling for a purely political battle for Basque independence. The political organisation Ekin, often connected to Eta, has announced its decision to disband.  Conservative politicians and family members of Eta victims also proclaimed the uncertainty of peace until Eta lays down its arms.

Such a promise was last made in 2006, only to be broken by the group with the bombing of a Madrid airport car park, which killed two people. The general opinion is that a concerted Spanish and French crackdown has seriously weakened the group, but Spanish Minister of Defence Carme Chacon made it public that the government does not intend to negotiate with the group, which was a key demand in Eta´s declaration. Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapateto’s demand of Eta giving up weapons completely has also been relatively ignored.

Former Minister of the Interior Alfredo Pérez Rubalcaba, a long-term adversary of ETA and prime minister candidate of the socialist party PSOE, called the group Etikn s decision a “great victory for democracy, law and reason.“ The final decision will rest with the new government, which is to be chosen in a general election this November.





Occupy Wall Street: Why the rising populist movement is not the left-wing answer to the Tea Party By Benedict Tumelty

The Occupy Wall Street protests were initially dismissed as the actions of anarchists and hippies; angry young people who purportedly despised capitalism and were thus anti-American. However, in recent days the demonstrations have spread around the world, from Wall Street to the Colosseum, Berlin to Melbourne, signifying global solidarity over common economic hardships. As the movement has gained support and, more importantly, traction, politicians, correspondents and captains of industry alike have been forced to re-examine all aspects of this social uprising, from its potential staying power to its effect on America’s political parties and the looming Presidential election.

As the protests have amplified, and coverage has noticeably increased, comparisons have been drawn between the left-wing demonstrators and the right-wing Tea Party. While this simple parallel makes for an interesting narrative, it fails to capture the true spirit of the Occupy movement and does not adequately acknowledge the substantial achievements of the Tea Party. Both groups indeed share marginal similarities. The respective movements were equally born out of a cocktail of fear, frustration and resentment, and their rise indicates mounting grassroots populism in the United States.

The Tea Party raced onto the political scene in 2009, founded in the wake of government bailouts, and immediately called for limited government and fiscal accountability. It appears concerned leftists delayed action in the fervent hope that the Obama administration would deliver the “Change” they so eagerly anticipated. But a lack of solutions has bred wider and more vocal discontent. Impatient and weary liberals have taken to the streets, under the banner of Occupy Wall Street, to chastise the greed and opulence of the “1%”. Occupy Wall Street is not, therefore, the direct response of the progressive left to the well-established populist conservative enterprise, but instead a spontaneous, twitter-led eruption of indignation against a broken economic system.

The most apparent differences are found within the makeup of each camp. The middle-aged, middle class and overwhelmingly white Tea Partiers are conspicuously divergent to the young and multicultural crowd currently occupying lower Manhattan. In fact, as the Occupy movement has gained momentum and acceptability, its support has diversified, traversing class, age and racial boundaries to offer a truer representation of the “99%”. And as the ranks have swollen, so too has national approval. The latest Time poll designates that 54% of the American people look favourably on Occupy Wall Street, while only 27% feel correspondingly about the Tea Party. Nevertheless, the very same poll illustrates that the majority of Americans believe the protests will have little lasting impact on the political landscape, serving to further differentiate the two distinctive groups.

The numbers, both encouraging and disheartening, reflect the fact that Occupy Wall Street has not yet entirely politicised, nor established centralised leadership. In contrast, the Tea Party had well-defined goals from its inception, utilising democratic means to achieve their targets and arguably reshaping Congress in the process. The young core of OWS lack the political know-how and, in some regards, the determination to affect change through traditional political avenues. However, as the movement matures and more politically experienced organisations, such as labour unions, join the fight, it is possible the month-old unrest will leave an indelible footprint on the American political scene.

One thing is certain. Those who foolishly dismiss Occupy Wall Street as the impulsive activities of pot-smoking anarchists, or imprudently reject Tea Partiers as little more than nutty rightists, should be prepared for the advancement and longevity of both causes. The United States is suffering through a period of economic instability and social turmoil. With no clear end in sight, the radicalism exhibited in recent weeks is unlikely to subside in the near future.

Pickles is in a muddle over rubbish by Duncan Reynolds

Communities Secretary, Eric Pickles’ pledge of £250million to bring back weekly bin collections would be amusing if it were not such a blatant attempt to “curry” favour with English local councils. Pickles may look as if he might single handedly generate enough take away packaging to require a daily collection, but most of the public have not only become quite used to putting out rubbish on alternate weeks but we even feel virtuous in the process. Bin collections may be one of the most visible of the council services we all receive but Pickles has now sought to elevate their status to that of a basic human right. What of our responsibilities to waste less and recycle more?

 If he has the odd quarter of a billion to hand back to councils, far better to pursue the policy of increasing local decision making and allow them to consult their electorate and ask how they would wish to see it spent. His (not so) cheap stunt ahead of a party conference has nothing to do with public health as he has claimed. Were he genuinely interested in public health he could do much worse than partially restore funding to local authority run social services departments who across the country have axed budgets for social care.  So called “bed blocking” in acute hospitals is a direct consequence of the inability to get people back home with increased care, or to respite and rehabilitation facilities in a timely manner, often simply because of a lack of resources in social care. Blocked beds result in pressures on health budgets, cancelled operations, healthcare associated infection and delayed acute admissions. I doubt any lives have been put at risk as a direct result of moving to alternate week bin collections but bed blocking undoubtedly results in avoidable deaths.

 So please take away your rubbish policy Mr. Pickles, don’t trivialize the debate on rights and responsibilities in society and put your weight behind a serious public heath problem. The only smell in the air is not from mountains of uncollected rubbish, it’s the stench of hypocrisy.



Nixon’s bulldogs are still barking by Ryan Hammond

At a Republican house party this week, presidential candidate Rick Perry advocated a larger government role in the Mexico drugs war stating  “it may require our military in Mexico working in concert with them to kill these drug cartels and to keep them off of our border and to destroy their networks.” Is this simply talking tough to maintain his position as favourite for Republican nomination or a more sinister delusionary belief in the efficacy of military intervention as a solution? 

Perry likened the situation to Colombia 20 years ago where the government accepted American military intervention and had success in making Colombia a safer country against attacks from leftist guerrillas. However as a drug control strategy the plan failed; despite the continued presence involved in training, logistical support and intelligence back up at a cost of billions of dollars Colombia still provides over 90% of cocaine found in America.

A crude similarity between the situations in Mexico and Colombia exists in the weakness of the state allowing the proliferance of violent, organised gangs to a level which threatens political and social structures but the parallels end there. Last week five severed heads were found on the steps of a school in Acapulco along with handwritten messages against the local government and local drug lords. Atrocities such as these are increasing despite Mexico’s own ‘Plan Colombia’ style war on drugs since 2006 where Calderon has used the military to attack the traffickers.  Yet where Colombia has become safer Mexico is bleeding; between 2009 to 2010 drug related killings increased 60 per cent. A Hydra situation is occurring where the military ‘victories’ only serve to fragment the gangs, creating more power vacuums leading to more violence in the scramble to control the traffic.

The other key difference is the Mexican cartel’s recent switch from cocaine and heroin to methamphetamine as its primary commodity. Due to the purely synthetic composition of the drug its production sites are much easier to create and more dispensable than heroin and cocaine. Thus the drug is generally more impervious to current law enforcement methods than its predecessors. Furthermore the drug is cheaper and more addictive than cocaine and heroin making it the most popular hard drug in the Midwest and the West according to the DEA. All of which means immense profits for the cartels.

It is this demand that according to Calderon needs to be addressed. He claims that whilst he lives next door to the largest consumer of drugs in the world there will be a problem. He also claims that the expiry of a ban on Assault weapons in 2004 has made it much easier for the cartel to acquire firearms. While Calderon is likely to refuse US military deployment  and feel patronised by Perry’s comments he is receptive to US help, taking part in the Merida initiative, a US funded 1.7 billion dollar programme to help Mexico and other Central American countries deal with drug trafficking.  But if Calderon’s own war on drugs is failing and the cartel are outperforming the US government economically in the war how can it be won with Perry’s short-sighted suggestion of further military intervention?

In June this year the Global Commission on Drugs a body including former UN Chief Kofi Anaan, former US Secretary of State George Schulz and past presidents of Colombia, Mexico and Brazil concluded that world drug policy should take a non criminal approach. They declared emphatically that the war on drugs has been lost with huge collateral damage. 

Without this strategy of non criminal legislation in place any tactics we employ whether military based or not are futile. Ultimately wars on drugs whether In Mexico or Colombia are fed by the economics of drug prohibition as essentially low cost commodities have their prices vastly inflated and criminals fight to control the traffic. Unfortunately the moral crusade which Nixon embarked upon forty years ago has become so entrenched in the contemporary western political weltannschaung that the debate on how to legislate a more non criminal approach, if we ever have it, seems an eternity away. If Perry doesn’t “… know all the scenarios that are out there…”, he should refrain from making suggestions just in case they are actually implemented.




Herman Cain: “Flavour of the week” or can the former pizza chain executive actually win the GOP presidential nomination? by Benedict Tumelty

Prior to the last week’s Florida straw poll, pundits readily acknowledged the contest for the Republican nomination as a two-horse race between political thoroughbreds Mitt Romney and Rick Perry. However, Herman Cain’s surprising triumph in Orlando suggests the finish line is still far from sight. Admittedly, the straw poll is just a non-binding vote to gage popularity, but the margin of victory and the bearing of the geographical location cannot be easily overlooked.

The former Godfather’s pizzaCEOdelivered a decisive and shocking blow to his fellow nominees, earning a higher share of the vote than Perry and Romney combined, and seemingly seized a seat at the GOP’s top table. To compound the win, Florida is the largest of the swing states and site of the unforgettable recount of 2000 which awarded George W. Bush the White House. If it remains true that the road to the presidency runs through Florida, then Cain’s strong base of support in the sunshine state will only further his presidential credentials, and bolster his chances of gaining the Republican nomination.

Most American analysts, however, were quick to dismiss Cain’s chances of winning the nomination. They pointed to the fact that Mitt Romney and Michele Bachmann declined to participate in last week’s straw poll, and fellow Republicans were equally eager to rain on Cain’s prospective parade. The colourful Sarah Palin, she of the will-she, won’t-she campaign, patronisingly congratulated “Herb” on his win and acknowledged he was, at least for now, the “flavour of the week”.

Unfortunately for Romney, Bachmann, Palin and the rest of the GOP presidential hopefuls, Cain’s campaign appears to be gaining both momentum and credibility, with Thursday’s Fox News poll indicating a substantial swing in the candidates’ fortunes. With Texas Governor Rick Perry crashing down to earth, Cain has grasped the impetus of his straw poll success and garnered the attention of weary Republican Party voters. The pragmatic businessman now stands just two points behind Perry and six points off former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney, forcing political commentators to swallow their premature ponitfications and finally consider Cain as a plausible and electable presidential candidate.

In fact, the shock of Cain’s meteoric rise is only eclipsed by Bachmann’s dramatic fall from grace. Once the darling of the party, the Minnesota Congresswoman gained only 3% of the vote in Thursday’s poll and suddenly finds herself keeping company with stable bottom-dwellers Ron Paul, Newt Gingrich, Jon Huntsman and Rick Santorum. Thus, the assertion that Cain’s straw poll victory was somehow nullified by Bachmann’s non-participation is quite absurd. So too is the suggestion that Cain’s lack of political experience renders him unelectable.

One of the major knocks against Herman Cain is that he has never held elected office. Whilst it is true that Cain’s failed attempt to win the GOP Senate nomination in Georgia in 2004 does raise some question marks, and could arguably end up costing the businessman a few votes, he proudly wears his lack of political experience as a badge of honour. Cain, his campaigners attest, has yet to be morally compromised, and his political naivety could endear him to an American public tired of professional politicians. Ready to embrace someone who can deliver real economic results, they demand a CEO, rather than simply another Commander-in-Chief. Herman Cain, who once turned around the flagging Godfather’s Pizza in a mere 14 months, knows how to create jobs and hopes to be the economic saviour America is searching for.

Inevitably, the race for the Republican presidential nomination may whittle down to the potential entry of three political heavyweights. Former Alaska Governor Sarah Palin has long been on the verge of running for president, whilst the ever-popular Rudolph Giuliani, the two-term New York Mayor who admirably guided the city through its darkest days in the wake of 9/11, is always a threat to enter the contest. Chris Christie, the straight-talking Governor of New Jersey, is reportedly being urged to run by several high profile conservatives, from Henry Kissinger to George W. Bush, who hope the political fledgling can take advantage of the suddenly unsettled field.

Can Herman Cain actually win the GOP nomination? If the aforementioned trio try their luck, his odds significantly dwindle, but should the race continue to as a brutal battle between Perry and Romney, Cain could capitalise as an increasingly attractive and plausible alternative. It’s a long shot, as the self-proclaimed “dark horse” would likely admit, but Cain’s recent straw poll triumph and subsequent polling has suddenly made his candidacy more viable, forcing the two frontrunners to break from their grapple and pay attention.



Eenie, meenie, miney, moe, how to save the Eurozone? by Alexandra Gallovičová

“Everything depends on Germany now. Europe is dancing to Germany’s tune.” What used to be a situation assessment made by Charles Grant, director of the Centre for European Reform, has become very much common knowledge for those watching the situation of the Eurozone. Those two sentences alone set up the wonderful paradox of the current crisis; the country that was supposed to be economically weakened by the Euro (an initiative of long-term rival France) is the one calling the shots in an attempt at saving it. In fact Germany fared exceedingly well even throughout the hardest periods of the crisis – in 2010, its economy grew by 3.7 %. Can the average German thus be blamed for thinking that the cases of long-term recipients of EU Cohesion Funds – most famously Greece – could have been avoided? Moreover, can Germany be blamed if the euro falls?

Germany has found itself stuck between the hopes of the EU and a coalition government that is starting to squabble amongst itself. Chancellor Merkel’s insistence on the importance of the euro’s survival is not unanimous in the ruling coalition. Opposition to the ideas of the CDU ranges from the nationalistic-oriented opinions of FDP Minister for Economics and Technology Philip Rösler to CSU leader Horst Seehofer raising the possibility of a Greek exit from the euro zone – certainly not what Merkel would wish to hear from her sister party.

But the truth remains, after two years of attempting to fix the leaking pipe in the Eurozone machinery with its own money, Germany thus far has only an increasing water level and fewer patching supplies to show for its efforts. And the distinctly insensitive nickname of “euro-Nazis” from the “euro-destroying” Greeks, as German newspaper Bild terms the other nation. Germany isn’t seen as a generous benefactor; Greece isn’t seen as a worthy member of the euro-club. Both sides are beginning to tire. The situation is hardly helped by the fact that the markets are already testing the potential collapse of the euro. The worst thing is that this is becoming a real possibility. The fate of the Eurozone may very well depend on someone leaving it – be it Greece or, the less obvious choice, Germany itself.

For Greece, leaving the Eurozone might not be such a bad prospect, at least in terms of Greek public opinion. If the recent protests are anything to go by, attitude towards the troika of organizations governing the country’s economic situation, particularly the EU’s German-led rescue efforts, is hardly favourable. Withdrawing from the Eurozone doesn’t have to be permanent; but a time-out for Greece could allow it to fix its economy without being circled by the European Union, the International Monetary Fund and the European Central Bank. George Athanassakos outlines the declaration of bankruptcy as the best possible scenario for Greece, internally and in terms of its EU membership.

The more surprising alternative is the possibility that Germany might exit the Eurozone, especially considering the CDU’s insistence that it is the most invested country in the project. 55% of Germans didn’t want the euro when it was adopted; 56% wished for the Deutschmark back in 2008. Promises about euro stability ring hollow in the current situation. The population is asking itself how many other countries they have to bail out before they’re done. The euro would be a much weaker, but possibly more stable currency. But if Germany were to withdraw from the Eurozone, how long before its neighbours and others would want to join it?

Of course, the Eurozone isn’t keen on losing any of its members – if this were the case, the European Central Bank wouldn’t so easily be ignoring Article 104 of the 1992 Maastricht Treaty, which prohibits “the purchase directly from [Member States] by the ECB or national central banks of debt instruments.” For the ECB to go directly against an EU treaty, the situation the EU is facing cannot be taken seriously enough. Of course, Article 104c also states that “Member States shall avoid excessive government deficits.” It doesn’t help that Article 104 was stipulated as Germany’s condition for joining the EU system of central banks. The ECB wasn’t able to keep its word on staying out of politics and focusing on monetary stability. Extreme situations call for extreme measures.


Nevertheless, the EU doesn’t seem to be willing to take a decisive step towards a less extreme measure on the road to long-term stabilization – a stronger political union to back up the EMU. From its creation, it was assumed that the EU would eventually form a political union once its economic union was deep enough. We are now in the third stage of the EMU, with several of the newest EU members having joined the monetary union in recent years. The question is: why isn’t the EU moving towards closer political integration to support this framework?

The EU is an unprecedented entity on the world political stage, due to its diversity as much as its lack of decisiveness in terms of what it wants to become in the future. And, unfortunately, after the rejection of the 2004 Constitutional Treaty, EU policy makers might not be so keen to leave the future of the EU up to highly divided public opinion. Member states are unwilling to surrender their own powers to the EU, and their citizens are reluctant to trust in an organization that seems too far removed from their daily life to be of any help or use to them. Deepening integration hardly seems to be a popular move; even if the 2009 Treaty of Lisbon carefully removed any mention of a common European identity, the newly-created Barroso-Van Rompuy-Ashton troika hardly seems to have changed much for the day-to-day EU.

One hears of national leaders at the forefront of the efforts to halt the crisis every day; the truth is that despite empowering the European Parliament with the latest treaty, the EU remains as distant from the everyday citizen as ever. It therefore isn’t surprising that even the casual observer sees the strongest link of the chain as the one calling the shots. Germany is that strongest link and it’s on Germany’s terms that the situation is being resolved. Therefore, it does nothing to assuage a Eurozone citizen’s doubts when Mr Barroso and Ms Merkel cannot see eye-to-eye on the subject of whether or not to use Eurobonds to prevent the euro’s demise.

The EU is slowly but surely heading towards a choice: create a stronger political union or relinquish the Euro. ECB President Jean-Claude Trichet views it as a matter of concerted action, not of “mutual surveillance of economic policies.” His suggestion involves the creation of a common finance ministry to bind together the nations’ budgets – the absence of which was a weakness in the creation of the euro. Head of Germany’s central bank Jens Weidman also suggests that a choice is imminent: integration or individual responsibility. All clues thus point to deepening the political union as the evasive peaceful solution of if not this then at future crises. And perhaps a means for the debt crisis gain that evasive silver lining German philosopher Jürgen Habermas hopes for; promoting a cross-border awareness of a shared European destiny.