Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Merry Christmas!

Well folks, after a promising start, my blog's outputs have dried up somewhat over the past few weeks - I promise this is not due to lack of interest or maniacal rantings on behalf, but a reflection of a very busy period at work. Will be back into the swing of things in the New Year.

On a personal note, Baby Cooke is doing very well - we are nearly at 22 weeks now, and I have found out that I am going to have a son! Very excited, nervous, terrified and delighted - amazing how many feelings one man can have! Mum and baby are doing well, which is fantastic news.

So to anyone reading this, I hope you have a wonderful Christmas - I hope it is a time of relaxation and enjoyable company for you and those you spend it with.

With best wishes


Tuesday, 9 December 2008

In Defence of the Speaker

Lot of furore in Westminster just now about the Speaker's actions during the whole Damian Green affair. It has certainly been a mess from start to finish, with the actions of the Met blundering (to put it mildly) and the lack of warrant for the search of Mr Green's offices at Parliament regrettable in hindsight.

However, the voices clamouring for Mr Martin's resignation as Speaker are political opportunists in the whole rather than dedicated to the defence of democracy. As Frank Dobson pointed out in the debate over the issue in Parliament, Parliamentary Privilege is a concept that MPs refer to a lot, but one without a clear and agreed definition.

I think that most people would agree that an MP handles extremely sensitive material on behalf of their constituents and that it is important that this is kept confidential. However, no member of society, including our elected representatives, should be above the law. This means that the idea that there can be somewhere that an MP can store information with no recourse for it to be investigated in the course of police action in itself presents a potential threat to democracy. A warrant should have been issued and it is important that the procedures are clarified to ensure that it cannot be used as a "tool for oppression" as the Opposition are rather crudely alleging - Sir Nicholas Winterton's comparison with Zimbabwe is quite frankly an childish insult to both the people of Zimbabwe and the Government of the UK.

The situation has been a godsend for the Conservative Party - it came at such an opportune moment that you would almost suspect that they had masterminded it! Cameron has been struggling in the polls, the Government are bouncing back - and then along comes a situation where the Government is powerless to intervene. It would have been a bigger threat to democracy had the Home Secretary stepped in and criticised an ongoing police investigation - the police must remain impartial and independent to carry out their vital role. Therefore the Government has had to sit back and put up with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune - such is the limits of governmental power sometimes.

So it has been a postive news breaker for Cameron, although I don't think it has quite hit a nerve with the public in the way that he might have hoped - the economy is still dominating the headlines with the Green affair more of an issue for the commentariat. However, we should not forget that there are very important issues underlying the investigation. No one would deny that leaks have an important role to play in the democratic accountability of the Government (of whichever political shade it may be) and Labour certainly benefited from them when in Opposition. However, the leaks at the Home Office have taken on a systematic nature, which potentially compromises the trust between the Government and the 'impartial' Civil Service and also has implications considering the nature of the information that the Home Office deals with.

I think that it is the first of these two points that is the most crucial, although the second may have informed the decision to involve the police. Regardless of the party in power, it is a fundamental tenet of our democratic system that the Civil Service remain impartial and at the service of whoever in in government. The choice of the police to use the term 'grooming' in regards to Mr Green's actions (which of course remain only allegations) implies a ongoing source of information and therefore an ongoing breach of trust in the Home Office. It does not appear to have been a civil servant passing on a single piece of information which they believed to be in the public interest; rather this appears to have been the ongoing passing of various information to a member of a rival political party who are not the democratically elected government - this is a serious breach.

However, the Conservatives have cleverly turned this round to focus on the Speaker's office rather than their own member's potential wrongdoing. The Conservatives have had it in for Mr Martin ever since he was elevated to the post, believing that this broke the convention of alternating the Speakership between parties. Of course, this convention only dates back to the 60s, and the Conservatives had previously in 1951 carried out a very similar process in putting a Conservative in the position. The Speakership is of course impartial, and importantly so, but we would be kidding ourselves to pretend that it is not surrounded by party politics. There have been systematic attacks on Mr Martin since his election to the role, and it is undeniable that some of these have been personal in nature - the use of the nickname 'Gorbals Mick' demonstrating an outdated snobbery on the behalf of its instigators, alongside an obvious lack of geographic and historical knowledge of Glasgow.

The whole Green affair has demonstrated a need to review and define Parliamentary Privilege and to clarify the responsibility of the Speaker in protecting the integrity of the House. However, it has been primarily a party political affair, cleverly utilised by the Conservative Party. It is disappointing that the Liberal Democrats have fallen into line behind the Conservatives, but I think that this is an indication of what we can expect under the leadership of Nick Clegg - a hung Parliament will likely see them likewise fall behind the Conservatives.

But the affair does not constitute the basis for the resignation of the Speaker. In hindsight there are issues related to it which need to be changed, but the arrest and searching of Mr Green's various offices were carried out with the foreknowledge of the Conservative Mayor of London and the Leader of the Conservative Party. Decisions on Mr Martin's future must be made by him, and this affair should be left to the police to handle in the manner which they consider most appropriate.

Monday, 8 December 2008


With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan still raging, a common opinion expressed in the media and amongst the commentariat (particularly, but not exclusively that of a more liberal slant) has been that interventionism is dead. The view goes that the US (and by extension the UK) has sacrificed its moral authority on the world stage and therefore cannot intervene in the affairs of other nations - instead we have returned to the area of non-interventionism, particularly in regards to military intervention.

I believe that this is a short-sighted viewand one which the destruction of Zimbabwe is highlighting all too clearly. US foreign policy under President George W. Bush has been roundly criticised as being triumphalist, militaristic and aggressive, yet it is far more firmly located in the tradition of US FP than many would care to admit. The interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq are open to debate as to their appropriateness and competency, however they are not a huge break from the policies followed by President Bush's predecessors, such as President Bush snr's interventions in the Gulf and President Clinton's interventions in Somalia and Bosnia.

Indeed, President Clinton was criticised for not doing enough to intervene in the humanitarian crisis in Rwanda, where the world tacitly allowed the genocide of a ethnic grouping. Criticism was levelled that the US didn't deploy military forces - the world's accusation being that the US did not do its duty.

And this is the paradox at the centre of world politics - a requirement that the US, as the world's last remaining superpower, intervene in situations where disaster is unfolding coupled with a resentment that it can and does. In an ideal world, the crisis in Zimbabwe would be dealt with by the African Union and in particular by South Africa - if political leadership and common endeavour didn't drive their motives, then surely self-preservation would. However, South Africa has demonstrated an inability, and indeed unwillingness, to fulfil that role despite the implications that a failed, cholera-ridden Zimbabwe on its doorstep has for the nation.

Interventionism (and I am focussing on humanitarian crises here, other interventionism is a topic for another blog) is not just a legitimate policy tool, I believe that it is a fundamental responsibility of the 'Western' world. Zimbabwe's collapse is being played out on the TV screens in our homes - we have contributed to the disaster and we must contribute to the recovery.

The UK has a unique role to play in this crisis due to the historical link between ourselves and Zimbabwe. We must respond to the cholera epidemic with appropriate aid whilst at the same time continuing the pressure on Mugabe's illigitimate and dangerous regime. We are limited in our potential military response due to geography and the overstretching of our armed forces, however we must make clear that in the case of the requirement of intervention by foreign troops (ideally led by the African Union) we will provide as much logistical and hardware support as we can.

The sovereignty of the nationstate is important, however the collapse of the state and oppression of its people invalidates its rights. Rwanda was the demonstration of the necessity of humanitarian interventionism - since that time we have watched it continue to happen around the world. Humanitarian intervention is a responsibility and a necessity - as our forces in Sierra Leone demonstrated, it can make a crucial difference to the stability of a nation and the countering of genocidal actions.

The US and its allies have a unique place in the world and therefore have a unique responsibility. It is a responsibility we must live up to, and which we must demonstrate in Zimbabwe now.