25 May 2013

Responses to my questions for London Labour's MEP candidates: #1 Seb Dance.

I'm grateful to Seb Dance for being the first, and so far only, London Labour MEP candidate to respond to my questions on European issues and the selection process. His answers are below.

Again, thank you, Seb, for your thoughtful and comprehensive answers.

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1. The biggest challenge faced by the European project this year has been the Cypriot banking crisis. What is your assessment of the measures put in place by the so-called 'troika' to deal with this and what lessons have been learnt should similar crises arise in comparable euro-denominated economies?

SD: Depositors and savers should not bear the cost of bailing out banks from collapse caused by their own reckless activities. When the crisis hit in February, the Cypriot Government chose to put the burden on the all bank savers therefore breaking an important EU principle that deposits of up to €100,000 would be protected. This was a bad decision and thankfully the Cypriot Parliament rejected the deal.

The situation in Cyprus and the emergence of yet another banking crisis underlines the need to push ahead with tough reform to change culture and structure of our banks. Banks are still too big to fail with the Cypriot banking sector estimated by the IMF in 2011 to be 835 per cent of GDP and banks' assets in relation to GDP have tripled in size since 2000.

We need to implement reforms across Europe which would separate a bank's essential retail services from their more risky trading activities. The separation would mean that even if a bank fails depositors and savers could still access the accounts and use payment services without government or tax payer bailouts. It is not acceptable that the Cypriot banks remained closed for 10 days and that citizens were left without basic banking services. These reforms will ensure no interruption to deposits and payments services and ultimately no run on a bank.

2. A longer term challenge is that of reducing carbon emissions. It has been claimed that the cap and trade Emissions Trading Scheme (ETS) has been undermined by the European Parliament's recent failure to agree to the 'backloading' of credits. In such a scheme, do you believe the 'cap' or the 'trade' feature to be the more important? Has the ETS reflected this importance? If not, what reforms or alternatives for regulating the use of carbon would you support?

SD: So-called 'backloading' is very important in order to raise the price and make the scheme more effective. In the absence of measures such as this the ETS certainly has its shortcomings, but nevertheless it has already helped the EU bring down its emissions and it is taken as an example by other regions of the world.

There is currently a surplus of 900 million allowances which has in turn brought the price down from €30 - as originally calculated by energy producers - to €2.80. This imbalance is distorting the market and hindering Europe's transition to a low-carbon economy.

On reform, other than stressing the importance of backloading I think it is best to see what position the Rapporteur can come up with following the report's rejection. I believe Labour MEPs are in consultation with him on this.

3. A growing pan-European economy is dependent upon the flow, exchange and exploitation of information. This whole opportunity is becoming better known as 'Big Data'. What are the threats to this from EU legislation concerning data? How do we balance the potential for businesses and consumers with the need to protect privacy and maintain member nations' national security infrastructures?

SD: As you say, the need here is to ensure that the correct balance is struck between protecting people's data and allowing Europe's economy to benefit from the enormous potential of new technology.

As such I would broadly welcome the Commission's proposal on reforming data protection but there are some important principles I think we need to ensure are put in place: 1) that protection applies to all citizens in the EU regardless of where the data is being stored or processed; 2) that anonymous data should not be subject to the same restrictions - indeed it should be incentivised; 3) that processing of data is subject to consent, compliance with obligations on guarding it and that, generally, data referring to ethnicity, sexuality, health records, membership of trade union and other data of a personal or sensitive nature is not to be processed by public bodies except in extremely specified circumstances and with strict safeguards.

Citizens should in all cases have the right to know what data is held about them and this right of information must cover both public and private bodies. It should be clear to anyone using a company's services what data is being collected and - crucially - how it is being used.

4. Although no fault of any of those selected, it has become increasingly clear that the selection processes for the regional lists was unsatisfactory. In London, only 100 or so applications were made. (Just so as you know, I was one of them so do not write this entirely disinterestedly). For a job that has 8 vacancies and is worth a six figure annual salary, that's astonishingly low and points towards a lack of communication and promotion to the regional membership. How would you rectify this for the 2019 process? Whatever the numbers of members interested, is a pre-selection for selection necessary at all? Given modern campaigning and communications techniques, are short-lists for a regional list necessary at all? How could the regional party better facilitate the participation of more than eight people in the selection for 2019?


SD: Dan, I am sorry to hear that you did not get on the shortlist but it is fantastic that you applied; like you I agree that there ought to be many more members applying to be an MEP.

I feel very privileged to be on the shortlist and to be able to represent Labour in these elections. Ultimately I would like to see some way for more members to have a say in the selection process as early as possible, but the party must make the decision on what is possible logistically and
financially.

I would hope that in the coming weeks you will have an opportunity to see all of the candidates debate and discuss the issues that matter to all members and be able to make a choice accordingly. As internal party selections go, there are few as comprehensive as this one!

23 May 2013

If foreign policy drove Adebolajo to commit the Woolwich atrocity, why does he know so little about the subject?

For a person claiming that war, foreign policy and what is happening in other lands drove him to his act of terror, Michael Adebolajo, who addressed an onlooker's mobile phone video yesterday after murdering a soldier in Woolwich, seems to know remarkably little about these things.

First,  he 'apologised' for having hacked a person to bits in broad daylight in front of women and children while explaining that women and children in 'our lands' have to see that sort of thing everyday. I'm going to make an assumption here that 'our lands' refers to a country such as Afghanistan which is overwhelmingly Muslim, and has been the focus of a 12 year war involving soldiers such as the one he targeted. Which is odd. For sure, there have been hugely regrettable civilian casualties throughout that war.  But the slicing and dicing of unarmed men in busy streets? Well that's a habit of the Taliban, this murderer's co-ideologists. If he knew anything of 'our lands' he would've known this and perhaps, to say the least, raise the matter in a different way.

Second, he's clear that British involvement in wars in which Muslims have been killed, inspired his actions as direct retribution. Again, I'll assume something here: that he's talking about Iraq and Afghanistan. Well, we pulled out of Iraq four years ago and we're well into draw-down in Afghanistan. British troops are doing less and less and less. 
 
A similar argument, on a much grander scale, pertains to 9/11. Those attacks were commited at a time when the US was teetering on a return to isolationism under a realist George Bush. Not completely, no. Nor necessarily irrevocably, indeed. But the world pre-9/11 was a lot closer to how Al Qaeda would like it to be than it is now. 9/11 made the neo-cons, not vice-versa.
 
So to return to Adebolajo, if you were going to get yourself so worked up about UK soldiers in 'our lands', shouldn't you have really done so a bit before now? Again, if he knew anything of these wars, he would know this, and perhaps realise that killing an off-duty soldier in London to make a point about deployed soldiers in Helmand may lack a certain logical consistency - at any time, let alone when you've basically got troops gone or going. OK, maybe the thirst for vengeance is so great that it doesn't matter that we're out of Iraq and nearly out of Afghanistan. History matters. Of course, you may have trouble selecting a cut-off point if that's your view ('what the Romans did to the soil around Carthage on land which was later to be part of the Caliphate is an outrage') but I can basically take your point.
 
However, you can't just pick and choose. In 1998, for example, NATO went to war in Kosovo specifically to defend an ethnic group that happened to be Muslim. And if Muslims being killed is the source of your rage, could you not have found time for a shout out to Syria? There's a regime, considered un-Islamic by fundamentalists, which has spent the last two years slaughtering Muslims on an industrial scale. This isn't wotaboutery. Consistency and a holisitc view matter when you're going to act so extremely out of such self-proclaimed high principle. If global politics is what supposedly whips you into a bloody frenzy then at least have the decency to establish a perspective that is both, er, global and goes back a bit further than the 10th September 2011. Again, if he knew anything about foreign policy, Adebolajo would've known this, and perhaps act on different matters other than Iraq and Afghanistan (and hopefully, as urged above, in a different way).
 
Third, why this? If your co-religionists being threatened in Afghanistan is such an unbearable thought, why kill that soldier where you did and when? There are all sorts of ways to contribute to the welfare of Afghans more directly. There are countless NGOs operating there that need money and personnel, for instance. You could even, if you wanted to (and I'm obviously not encouraging or advocating this, but if you wanted to) do insurgency properly and get over there and get trained and join in on the ground, doing that whole eye for an eye thing for real. And so again, if Adebolajo really knew about the war, he would know this and have been able to take a different path, closer to what he claims to care about. Or was it just that actually fighting properly for what you believed in would have meant having to get out of your Stone Island clobber, give up your X-Box, and not talk to girls anymore?
 
I'm going to go with the latter, actually. That video of Adebolajo was not reminiscent of any jihadist but rather of a narcissistic yet obviously inadequate pub bore or school bully. You know the sort. Kind of bloke who claims that he's never being showed enough 'respect' and who can only lash out when he realises that no one is the slightest bit interested in him.
 
Of course, foreign policy can be radicalising - personally, I found that Al Qaeda's foreign policy made me look at the world in a decidedly radically different way - but it is a massive leap to go from that to saying that the Western version is responsible for people like the Woolwich murderers acting as they do.
 
In the same way that they twist their understanding of Islam, they also twist their understanding of 'foreign policy' to justify their violence. Projections of Western power often leave much to be criticised and condemned. But the last decade has not been about a 'War On Muslims' or 'Wars for Oil'. Sure, you can certainly caricature it as such and propagandise around that (in the same way that you can caricature a religion and build prejudice against its adherents) but it will lead you further from understanding the true complexities and being able to address the wrongs in the right way. In this, Islamists have been ably supported by useful idiots in the West itself who share a similar disdain for our politcs and society, and whose knee-jerk reaction to terrorist acts on our streets is to blame ourselves first. They are complicit in promoting the idea that UK foreign policy is so irredeemably destructive that it can only be met with analagous destruction. It is a world view that is almost as simplistic and extreme as those who take the Koran as justification for their hatred. And they therefore share a responsibility for the fanaticism that leads to the sort of violence we saw perpetrated in Woolwich yesterday.

13 May 2013

In a crowded field, the award for this year's snobbiest, most elitist Guardian letter may have already been won.

I have no interest whatsoever in this bloke who tells an overpaid bunch of oiks how to kick a ball about. What if somebody really significant in the creative arts retired? Say Seamus Heaney declared he was retiring from poetry – would we get a supplement about that?
'Oiks'. Charming.

08 May 2013

Just how far will Stephen Hawking take his boycott of Israeli academia?

Professor Stephen Hawking has withdrawn from the Fifth Israeli Presidential Conference, in order to support the academic boycott of Israel.

The conference organisers do not need me defending them. They're doing that perfectly well themselves:
The academic boycott against Israel is in our view outrageous and improper, certainly for someone for whom the spirit of liberty lies at the basis of his human and academic mission.
Ably supported by the Fair Play campaign:
Prof Hawking could have joined the Conference and explained his views on the conflict in the region, just as many other participants have done. By boycotting the conference, he has thrown away this opportunity and will help nobody.
But if he'll forgive me the indulgence (and the assumption that he's an avid reader of this blog), I've got a couple of questions.

Just how far are you prepared to take this boycott? Would you, for example, boycott the academics, and urge others to do so, who are currently working on a phase 2a dose-escalating trial to evaluate experimental stem-cell therapy in ALS, at the Hadassah Medical Center in Jerusalem?

As you know, ALS stands for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

UPDATE
Hawking trip NOT cancelled due to Israel boycott:
Professor Hawking's spokesperson has confirmed that he will not miss the conference in Israel due to a boycott, but rather because of health reasons.
So now the question is, will BRICUP apologise?

FURTHER UPDATE

Nope. He really is supporting the boycott. Thereby proving, yet again, one of Fox's Iron Laws of Politics: that it takes really clever people to be really, really stupid.