Archive for June, 2012

The Tragedy of Timbuktu

June 30, 2012 2 comments

Reports are coming through of Ansar Al Din, the armed Islamist group now in control of much of Northern Mali, having begun the total destruction of 16 UNESCO world heritage sites in Timbuktu.  All the sites are ancient mausolea.

As I set out three months ago, this at least partially the fault of David Cameron and his Boys’ Own Adventure in Libya. 

The chaos now enveloping Northern Mali has a fairly complex history, and it’s biggest trigger was the March coup in Mali itself, which led to military weakness in the Northern areas quickly exploited by a mix of Islamist and Touareg groups intent on seccession and/or the imposition of Sharia law.  But

 there seems little doubt that a key contributing factor was the retreat from Libya of heavily armed mercenaries, no longer in the payroll of Ghadaffi. 

Just as in Iraq eight years previously, the British government and its allies appear to have completely failed to plan for the possible knock-on effects of Ghadaffi’s downfall – the existence of mercenaries recruited from southern neigbours was hardly unknown, after all.   And just as eight years ago, a whole region is being stabilised by a British prime minister’s desire to play the international hero.

I’m not even sure if Hague or Cameron know where Timbuktu is, never mind anything of its importance as a cultural site.   But this weekend, they should be feeling guilty about the irreversable damage they are partly responsible for.



Categories: General Politics

Gay rights and the tea party

Tom Scott is a US Conservative talk-radio host who ran as an independent candidate in 1994 against Eunice Groark, a Repulbican and the first female lieutenant governor of Connecticut back in in 1990.

He became submerged in hot water in 2005 when, as Tampa mayoral candidate, he opposed local gay rights marches, and urged elected officials to vote against them.

But his excuse at the time was that his opposition was not down to discrimination, but the “issue was spending public dollars to advocate or advertise gay pride“.

He went one further, too: “I oppose any kind of discrimination in any form”.

Tom Scott is also a fellow-traveller of the tea party movement. To the accusation that the tea party is a cell for racists and homophobes, Scott – a black person himself – replied that “the real basic platform of the Tea Party” is a dissatisfaction of high taxes and big state.

This probably doesn’t sit well. After all, the tea party did more than just raise the issue of supposedly bad finance. When the Cato Institute’s Julian Sanchez raised the spectre of epistemic closure, and right wing bias towards Fox News, this was at a time when the birther movement were waving placards claiming the President of the US was not a real American.

Who were the birthers? Well people like Tom Wise who felt Obama’s documents had been altered. He, also, was a Tea Party coordinator.

But there seems to be some desire for a real Tea Party, not the rag tag bunch who pose conspiratorial questions and look stupid, like Tom Wise (not well named).

Sanchez’ colleague at the Cato Institute David Lampo has taken it upon himself to do the seemingly impossible task of bringing gay rights to the conservative right. For him this should start with the Tea Party movement. Though, further, he doesn’t think it’ll be too hard.

In his new book A Fundamental Freedom:Why Republicans, Conservatives, and Libertarians Should Support Gay Rights  he cites:

A Montana Tea Party group recently kicked out one of its board members for remarks that seemingly condoned anti-gay violence. In Texas, a bastion of hard-core Republican conservative theocrats, the Republican Party recently replaced its “Schlaflyite culture warrior” chairman (in the words of author and journalist Jonathan Rauch) with a more traditional Reaganite who emphasized economic issues over social ones. As a Dallas Tea Party leader told Rauch, “We do not touch on social issues. We believe the biggest danger to the country is the fiscal irresponsibility that’s going on in Washington.”

I once again ponder on the question: is an organisation like the Tea Party the sum of its parts (which brings to mind the birthers and other nonsense) or a whole which cannot always control the message of its parts (the whole’s message being one of non-discrimination and economic issues)?

On the Republicans in general and gay relationship recognition, Lampo cites some very interesting figures:

when it comes to relationship recognition for gay couples, as far back as 2004, a CBS News poll showed that 46 percent of Republicans backed either civil unions or same-sex marriage, and that support has continued to grow. A CBS News poll in August 2010 showed 59 percent of Republicans supporting either same-sex marriage or civil unions (25 percent backed marriage, 34 percent civil unions). A May 2011 survey by Public Policy Polling showed a majority of Republicans, 51 percent, in favor of either same-sex marriage (12 percent) or civil unions (39 percent).

In his Washington Post piece he notes a sea change in Mitt Romney, siding with homophobic organisations to rally up the troops. But for Lampo these troops are imaginary. The conservative Right are coming round to gay rights – even on issues such as marriage.

So perhaps there is something in this. Perhaps this shows something interesting within conservatism that appeals to gay marriage, rather than the stock criticism that conservatives and gay marriage are as oppositional as Jeremy Hunt and truth-telling.

As a congregation of conservative rabbis in Arizona recently put it: “same-sex marriages have the same sense of holiness and joy as that expressed in heterosexual marriages”.

Categories: General Politics

The privatisation of democratic scrutiny: the strange case of Lancashire Healthwatch

June 29, 2012 10 comments

The Lancashire Evening Telegraph reports (i.e. copies and pastes a press release) :

A NEW organisation to improve health and social services in Lancashire has been unveiled.

Lancashire County Council has joined forces with Parkwood Healthcare to form a new health watchdog called HealthWatch Lancashire.

Parkwood specialises in providing staff, including nurses, care assistants and project workers, to the NHS, private and voluntary organisations.

From April 2013, the new organisation will replace the current Lancashire Local Involvement Network (LINk) as an independent watchdog, listening to local people’s concerns and ensuring the best services for them.

In dryer terms, Parkwood Healthcare has won the contract from the County Council to run Lancashire Healthwatch (see No.5 in May 2012 Cabinet minutes), pursuant to the Health and Social Care Act 2012.  

Clause 183, para 2.2 of that Act requires the following in respect of such a contract:

The arrangements must be made with a body corporate which—

(a) is a social enterprise, and

(b) satisfies such criteria as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State

This makes the award of the contract look very odd.  I have checked out Parkwood Healthcare on the Companies House site and it is a Private Company Limited by Shares.  As such, it is surely outwith the normal definition of a social enterprise. 

So have the County Council acted illegally in awarding the Healthwatch contract to Parkwood Healthcare?  

Well, maybe, or maybe not.  The Health and Social Care Act, courtesy of a late amendment in the Lords (unchallenged by any member of any party), provides a definition of what itmeans by ‘social enterprise’ (Clause 183 para 7):

For the purposes of this section, a body is a social enterprise if—

(a) a person might reasonably consider that it acts for the benefit of the community in England, and

(b) it satisfies such criteria as may be prescribed by regulations made by the Secretary of State.

Now, I’m a pretty good at ‘reasoning’, even if I say so myself,  but I don’t consider that Parkwood Healthcare ‘acts for the benefit of the community in England’, precisely because the organisation’s legal status is not one normally associated with social enterpise. 

Further, we don’t know what criteria may be prescribed in the secondary regulations, because those regulations are still a matter for consultation; indeed those consultations appear to have a particular focus on what ‘social enterprise’ is to be taken to mean (see Issue 1 in these slides).

So in summary, we have a (Conservative) County Council apparently offering a ‘social enterprise-only’ contract to what is clearly a private firm, but which might just arguably be considered a social enterprise under Andrew Lansley’s new regulations.  Except that they haven’t been issued yet.

Further, the contract has been awarded to a Lancashire-registered firm which, at least judging by the website section on the nursing agency part of its business,  may have a financial interest in delivering some of the services that it is now being contracted to scrutinise*.

At the very least, I think Lancashire County Council needs to be asked a few questions about this**, including whether it has made provision in the contract with Parkwood Healthcare for its termination/withdrawal, in the event that the secondary legislation makes such a contract unlawful.


* We should be clear that this is not entirely new. According to its accounts, Parkwood Healthcare already has contracts to “act as the host for voluntary organisations to meet and influence service provision” in Lewisham, Harrow and Greenwich, while also offering nursing agency services in the London area.  

These contracts come under the previous government’s Local Involvement Networks (LINk) legislation, but the difference is that in these cases their ‘hosting’ services have been subject to a degree of accountability from those members that make up the Local Involvement Network itself (cf. the Lancashire LINk board structure, for example). Under the new Healthwatch provisions there appear to be no such safeguards, with LINks simply abolished in favour of Local Healthwatch arrangements. 

** I should stress, not least so as to avoid any risk of legal action, that I am in no way suggesting that Parkwood Healthcare has acted improperly in tendering for the Lancashire Healthwatch contract.  It is the Council’s actions that I question.



My father, and the meaning of the Bomber Command memorial

June 29, 2012 3 comments

I have mixed feelings about the new Bomber Command memorial.

I can understand what has motivated the veterans who have campaigned for so long for it: the brooding sense of resentment that they alone have failed to be recognised for their heroism, the need to put the record straight.

But I’m pretty sure that my father, a Lancaster bomb-aimer who bombed Dresden and other German cities at the age of 21, would not approve.  I’m pretty sure of that because, until he was killed in 1979, he resolutely declined to talk about the war.  He stayed in touch with none of his squadron, attended no memorials. He walked on the hills on Remembrance Day.

My mother, likewise, largely maintained that silence, in quiet respect for the way my father approached post-war life, but she has confirmed well enough what I’d long suspected but wasn’t old enough to ask my father before he died: that he hated everything about the war,  most especially what he was ordered to do, and that he felt guilt about what he had done till the day he died.

Of course I accept that other veterans view what they did quite differently and that for them it is a legitimate source of pride.  

I accept fully that is easy enough now to see the carpet bombing of German cities (rather than continued attacks on strategic power and transport installations) as a needless act of retribution, but that the decision-makers of the time were subject to pressures, and emotions, that we can only guess at. 

For those who flew under these decision-makers’ orders, it is quite understandable that they should have agreed, or come to agree, that what was done needed to be done, and that they should be honoured equally for their part in winning the war against Nazism.

Even so, I can’t help feeling that the memory of my own father is just a little bit sullied by the new memorial: that his way of dealing with the past –  family ties and the local solidarity of his workmates in the steelworks to which he returned after the war –  has been shoved a little too unthinkingly to one side, in favour of what is actually a very modern politics of  recognition.

Fifteen years ago or so, a Labour MP (it might have been Clare Short) was brave enough to suggest that 2014 or 2018 might be a suitable time for the very last Remembrance Day, a hundred years on from the war around which the institution grew up; the brave men we commemorate each 11th November will soon be as distant as the Napoleonic wars were to those same men.  Eventually, history must replace remembrance.

Thar MP’s wasn’t a very popular view even then, but I can’t imagine any MP of any colour now calling for a time-limit on remembrance which, if we’re brutally honest about it, may often be more about our need for occasional solidarity and collective emotion by any means available, in a world where day-to-day solidarity can seem hard to come by.

Financial crisis and drug provision

I’m not about to make a crass analogy between the UK and Greece, but drug provision from charities in this country (reported by Mary O’Hara in the Guardian today) has parallels to street clinics run by NGOs in Greece.

As mentioned in the Lancet:

Another indicator of the effects of the crisis on vulnerable groups is increased use of street clinics run by NGOs. Until recently, these clinics mainly catered to immigrants, but the Greek chapter of Médecins du Monde estimates that the proportion of Greeks seeking medical attention from their street clinics rose from 3—4% before the crisis to about 30%.

I’m all for inclusion of the third sector, but we should stand back and see what the new inclusion in their remit means for the most vulnerable in society.

Categories: General Politics

The other Barclays scandal

The Libor cat is out of the bag, and Bob Diamond’s personal defence is likely to be that he was head of Barcap, not of the whole of Barclays, at the time of the abuse.

So it’s worth remembering what has definitely been going on under his watch…..

Back in February, when Barclays was still “the one that didn’t get bailed out”,  this came out from shareholder group PIRC:

PIRC research last year identified that at least £1.4bn of deferred bonuses payable were not carried as a liability or disclosed by Barclays in respect of 2010 and previous years. Barclays said that it was nevertheless complying with international accounting standards (IFRS) under which a liability to employees does not count as a liability.

That was contrary to the requirement of Section 411 of the Companies Act which requires amounts paid and payable to employees be disclosed, independently of whether IFRS or UK GAAP was used. It then became clear that this problem was common with other banks.

With today’s figures Barclays is now disclosing amounts payable in accordance with Section 411, even though it is not adjusting its profits or balance sheet for this. This reveals:

• The amount missing in 2010 was in fact £1.7bn, higher than PIRC’s estimate.
• For 2011 the missing sum is now £2.0bn.

That is, while Barclays are this year just about complying with company law by admitting to the £2bn liability in the notes to their accounts (page 33, Performance Management section), they deliberately omit these liabilities from their overall profit figure.

If these bonus liablilities are taken into account, and other IFRS quirks* are ironed out, PIRC calculates that:

Barclays true profit for 2011 is only £2,914m, not the £5,879m IFRS number, nor the group’s own “adjusted” number of £5,590m.

This is important because the bonuses being paid out to Barclay’s investment bankers this year have been based on what appears to be an over-inflated profits announcement.

*In fact, as a helpful anonymous commentator set out when I first set this out, the issue of what is a real liability is complicted somewhat by the inconsistency between Companies Acts and the international accounting standard (IFRS):

The Companies Acts are not particularly clear since in respect of cash awards the test is “paid and payable” – and it could easily be argued that the awards do not become payable until the 3 year additional service period is completed in 2015 – and in respect of share awards the Companies Acts are even more specific in that the value of the awards should only be recognised when the awards are finally given i.e. in 2015.

IFRSs are actually more sensible in that they require both cash and share awards to be spread over the period when the employee is required to provide services to earn the award. Where Barclays have been naughty is that they have taken that latter period to start in March 2012 and end in March 2015 – and have recognised nothing in respect of 2011, eventhough it is the employees performance (or lack of it) in 2011 which has determined the size of the bonus pool. The accounting under IFRSs is just wrong and PIRC should refer it to the FRRP.



Categories: General Politics

What we don’t hear about forced marriages and gay men

I recently reviewed a report for HuffPo that shows how London Police Services are underprepared for a rise in serious crime. The report by the Victims’ Services Advocates (VSA) can be downloaded here.

One of the figures the report mentions, which I didn’t have time to highlight in my review, was one by the Metropolitan Police which shows that there were 298 Forced Marriage incidents / crimes reported in 2010 (including 333 actual and prospective victims – i.e. living in fear of forced marriage).

Of those people forced into marriage, the gender breakdowns reveal:

  • Female: 297
  • Male: 35
  • Unknown: 1

One of the inferences based on interview material, and the MPA’s own assessment, is that many of the men who are involved here are actually gay, and forced into marriage because of this.

The MPA didn’t check sexual orientation (save for one person)  as part of the course, so it is hard to evaluate, but there has been some attention given to this type of marriage over the last few years – and it is deeply disturbing.

Back in 2010 the Forced Marriage Unit (FMU) said there had been a surge in cases where men and boys are being forced into marriage because their families suspect they are gay or bisexual.

In that year the number of calls from men to the unit increased by 65%, from 134 in 2008 to 220 in 2009, and many of the cases involved families from south Asia, particularly Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

Comparable figures need to be shown today, to see whether this is an increasing problem, and to see who is targeted.

If the figures are worrying then this only adds to the VSA’s findings that there needs to be improved communication lines between the police authorities and victims.


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