Stephen Hester has highlighted conservative discord

January 31, 2012 § Leave a comment


Stephen Hester’s late night decision to forgo his £1 million bonus has not only spared him a difficult and unpopular future, but it has also highlight precisely how out of tune the Conservatives are with the British public and politicians internationally.

Since the news broke of Hester’s bonus, a procession of Tories have made half-hearted attempts at defending him, in particular by dragging out the government’s long dead horse ‘our hands are tired by the previous government.’

Though the conservatives didn’t seem willing, it was clear that Cameron would have made attempts to defend Hester to the Commons if Ed Miliband got his vote in parliament.

Whatever you feel about bonuses, the government’s reluctance to take decisive action on Hester shows just how out of touch they are with public opinion and politics more generally.

The latest YouGov poll shows that 50% of the public disapprove of the Government’s record to date. Similarly Labour have lessened the Conservatives recent poll lead and the two are now level pegging, despite the public’s worries over Miliband’s leadership.

Across the channel Francois Hollande has bankers quaking in their boots with his tax and spend policies. The French presidential hopeful has the City of London worried to such an extent that he is over here next month to calm things down.

Further afield Obama has also recently reasserted his plans to make everyone, even the wealthy, play by the same rules. An attack on his likely presidential challenger Romney, this may be, but it also echoes a theme which has been played out across the globe after the financial crisis.

Of course, asking the Conservatives to join this tune would be asking them to contradict their nature, but their belated response to Hester has shown how happy they are to distance themselves from this growing political agenda. Perhaps if they had taken decisive action one way or another they could have mitigated against the worst of the damage.

Why Osborne should take a lesson from Gingrich

January 28, 2012 § Leave a comment

Osborne looks as though he want to increase Britain’s contribution to the IMF. Speaking at the World Economic Forum the Chancellor said there was a ‘strong case’ to increase funding in order to build a bailout fund for struggling EU countries.

Osborne is working against a tide of Euro-scepticism from his backbench and a populous that seems hell bent on ignoring economic common sense in favour of some short sighted national sentiment.

After Cameron’s anti-EU bounce in the polls Osborne is going to have a hard time explaining why Britain should increased its contributions to the IMF to £10bn.

If the Chancellor did make this increase it could also be seen as a U-turn. In October Osborne made this announcement:

“Britain will not be putting money into the bailout fund either directly or through the IMF… the IMF exists to support countries, it does not exist to support currencies. The IMF contributing money to the eurozone bailout fund, no; Britain contributing money to the eurozone bailout fund, no. That is Britain’s clear position.”

If Osborne can’t persuade his backbenchers or face the poll ratings from the British public there may be an alternative.

In December 1994 when Mexico had only $6 bn dollars in the bank and a loan repayment of $25 bn in the next year the US did the only sensible thing, it hastily put together an emergency bailout fund. Championed by Newt Gingrich and with support from both democrats and republicans, the US put together two bailout funds which totalled $70 bn. Support also came from the international community and the IMF, this meant that from the beginning of the crisis the total offered to Mexico was around $90 bn,  a small price to pay to protect the US’s southern border towns from being crippled with immigration.

The money the US offered to Mexico was in short term loans which motivated the struggling country to pay them back as swiftly as possible. After they had been repaid the US earned $500 bn from the deal.

Of course the EU is far more multifaceted and complex than the bilateral bailout of Mexico. However, what this shows is that even in 1994 the IMF wasn’t the only option. If Osborne is both serious about his government’s position on the international economy and sensitive to the role Britain must play as a responsible international citizen, he could still find a way to build an EU bailout fund outside the limelight of the IMF.

Creating six hundred million jobs should be the world’s number one priority

January 24, 2012 § 1 Comment

Since the start of the global economic crisis some 27 million more people are unemployed. Today one in three workers world wide are either unemployed or living in poverty. A new UN report believes if the world is to maintain economic growth nations are going to have to find 600 million more jobs.

The global demand for jobs is expanding fast, over the next decade 200 million more people are going to be competing in the jobs market (me being one of them). Most will be in developing countries, but if the latest figures are anything to go by, we could see the number of unemployed in Europe hit 73 million in the not too distant future.

So where are these jobs going to come from? America might take on some of the burden. Since the hight of the financial crisis employment has risen by 2.5 per cent especially for those aged over 25.

India’s economy has also fared well during the crisis. The nation has in fact seen an increase in the rate of growth since 2009. This suggests that there is more room for job creation on the subcontinent. However, unemployment has consistently floated around 9.4 per cent.

There are no definitive figures for unemployment in Africa, but many think the situation is improving. Indeed Oxfam has recently become so conscious of its use of the ‘starving African child’ motif that it has hired professional marketers to help represent Africa in a fairer light. Of course, this is not true for all of Africa as the UN report suggests, 900 million people subsist on nothing more than $2 a day.

SOPA is a force for good

January 22, 2012 § 1 Comment

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SOPA is currently slinking in some movie studio’s back room, but it may well rear it’s outmoded little head again in a new form. For now, though, the internet can regroup.

The effects of this victory are becoming clear. Any young person who isn’t a complete imbecile will have heard about the wretched bill. What is more, they may even know that the bill was dropped rather swiftly after what seemed like the entire internet exploded in protest.

If this debacle has shown us anything it’s that when young people pay attention to politics, participate and get organised online they can make serious changes to the lumbering dinosaur that is politics.

It’s all very well for us to write blog posts, talk about things and get idealistic, but before long some of that energy needs to be channeled into tangible results. That’s what SOPA brought up in people. It gave them a point at which they could rally around. And hot it worked! Look at the results.

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Find out more on this great Q&A

Lets be frank, we are not talking about ‘forced labourers’ or ‘child labourers’, we are talking about slaves

January 21, 2012 § 3 Comments

Ten years ago a series of reports found that child labour was rife in the chocolate industry. Some of the world’s best known bands were using chocolate imported from farms using modern day slaves who had never known true freedom, let alone the taste of the chocolate they were harvesting.

This resulted in outrage in the US but no real policy came from this movement. Chocolate producers agreed to impose voluntary restrictions on the sorts of imports they made in an attempt to mitigate against ‘the worst effects’ of child labour.

This regulation has patently failed. The UN estimates that 150 million children are involved in child labour, that about 16% of 5-14 year olds.

Of course children are used across the board, not just by the chocolate industry, but a recent report estimates that 97% of chocolate farms in the Ivory Coast are untouched by regulation.

Kraft made this response to the findings:

“Kraft Foods is working with others in the industry supporting the Harkin-Engel Protocol to work towards elimination of the worst forms of child labor in the growing of cocoa beans.”

However, this does not change much for the real people who are modern day slaves because of the industry. What is more the situation seems to be getting worse, not better for sub-Saharan Africa.

The problem may be even worse than these reports suggest as much of the work children do goes unseen. Estimates suggest that the majority of work that girls are forced into is domestic and so hard to measure.

What is clear is that the chocolate industry, like all industries which import from vulnerable regions have a responsibility to source their products from farms which are transparent about their employees. Furthermore merely saying that they are against child labour is not enough. They must be seen to be taking an active role in its reduction.

It’s no longer OK to NOT know how the Internet Works

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

So the SOPA bill has been dropped, the internet is free and a billion people saw the message! That’s one seventh of the people on earth. Three hundred thousand people sent emails protesting the bill, two hundred thousand people tweeted about #SOPA and millions more got their message across in other creative ways, like this protester.
It’s clear that when people come together stuff gets done, and the internet is the best forum for we have for this!
We’ve done something very clever, instead of allow a Orwellian nightmare to come to pass we’ve turned the cameras around. We need to keep scrutinising, keep discussing and keep reminding government that our words have as many consequences as theirs.

Academics and the real world

January 20, 2012 § Leave a comment

Academics have an unfortunate tendency to ignore the real issue when it comes to global poverty. This is not true across the board, of cause, there are some very generous individuals like the Toby Orb over at ‘Giving What We Can’ who has managed to persuade 181 people to pledge a total of $45,000,000. However, the more often than not the inhabitants of philosophy and political science departments the developed world over tend to develop very well meant theories about why poverty exists without really doing anything practical about it.

The first problem is that there is no defined structure to allow academics to directly turn their theories into practice. This would require an institutional change whereby some organisation or group had the final word in the debate on how policies should be structured. Unfortunately at the moment the final say lands squarely in the hands of politicians who have their own interests, constituents and parties to fraternize.

Secondly, the very nature of academic debate invites conflict and disagreement. Not only is discussion and criticism necessary, but I have even heard of philosophers who place gaps in their own theories to encourage a reply so that they may write a rebuttal. Everyone else is left with a feeling that no one really knows what the best course of action is and if the ‘experts’ don’t know then what hope do the rest of us have.

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