Undermining the Unions

As soon as Ed Miliband was elected Labour leader in 2010, political commentators argued he had only won because of the ‘union vote’. (In the final round of voting, Miliband won 46.6 per cent of MPs’ votes, 45.6 per cent of party members, and 59.8 per cent of affiliated union members.) The line was repeated over and over by Tory frontbenchers. In 2013, David Cameron told Miliband that the unions ‘own you, lock, stock and block vote’, even though John Smith had abolished the union block vote in 1993. More »

In Parliament Square

‘Some people are going to have a problem with that flag,’ a man said to me as we marched down Piccadilly on Saturday. He was talking about the flag of the Syrian National Coalition: green, white and black, with three red stars. A Syrian refugee recently arrived in Britain, he said the flag didn’t represent Christians or Kurds, and that he hoped the protesters ‘support all civilians’. More »

Everyday Corruption

The huge blast at a chemical factory in Tianjin on 12 August, which killed around 150 people, was China’s worst industrial accident for several years. Since then there have been two more explosions in Shandong province, and now another in Zhejiang province on Monday. There have been at least 38 explosions so far this year at chemical plants, firework factories and mines. Among the causes are a lack of oversight, local corruption and attempts to boost profits by employing less qualified workers or ignoring safety protocols. These problems are endemic to most areas of the Chinese economy, whether it be food provision, the rail network or domestic tourism, all of which have seen serious accidents or health scares in recent years. More »

Out of Budapest


I caught up with the group of around 1000 refugees leaving Budapest on foot as they were crossing the Danube on the Elisabeth suspension bridge. We walked west along a dual carriageway. Families wheeled their belongings in pushchairs, with babies teetering on top. People were in flip-flops and beaten-up loafers. A woman pointed at my walking boots: ‘Very good,’ she said. Hungarian drivers stopped to offer people water and food. One man gave a family two pushchairs. At service stations, attendants rushed to the doors to stop people from entering, though they handed out bottles of water. A man on crutches overtook me, his friend carrying his prosthetic leg. It was about 150 miles to Vienna. More »

Atlantis Books

Atlantis Books is perched high on a clifftop in Oia, a village on the north-western tip of Santorini. Two American students, Craig Walzer and Oliver Wise, came up with the idea for the shop while visiting the island in 2002. ‘We read all of our books and couldn’t find anywhere else to buy some,’ Walzer told me. They returned with friends in 2004 and built Atlantis out of found objects from beaches, junkyards, and donations from the neighbours. ‘We took our time actually building the shower, because books were more important that hygiene.’ More »

Bibi at School

On the first day of school last week, children in their first year at primary school in the small city of Ashkelon in southern Israel were excited to learn that Binyamin Netanyahu would be visiting their class. This is what the prime minister had to say to the six-year-olds:

The first lesson in first grade is ‘Shalom first grade’ with the emphasis on shalom [peace]. We educate our children for peace. A few kilometres from here, Hamas teaches its children the opposite of peace and, from time to time, it tries to fire at us, at you. Our policy is clear – zero restraint, zero let-up, zero tolerance for terrorism. We respond to every hostile attack on our territory either by overt or covert action, and we are determined to foil terrorism at every turn, just as we did yesterday in Jenin. I wish a quick recovery to the soldier who was wounded. We want peace but we must first and foremost watch over our land, our children – we must watch over you. This is our first obligation – the security of our children.

Against the Stream

Hossein Derakhshan, a leading Iranian blogger, was imprisoned in Tehran in 2008 for spreading propaganda against the ruling establishment, promoting counter-revolutionary groups and insulting Islamic thought and religious figures. He was pardoned and released last November. He recently wrote a piece about the ways the internet changed – for the worse, in his view – during his time inside. ‘Six years was a long time to be in jail, but it’s an entire era online.’ The web is dying, to be replaced by the stream: More »

Images of the Occupation

Uri Avnery on ‘the face of a boy’:

It is not yet clear which are more effective in the long run: the bullets or the photos.

A test case is a short clip taken recently in a remote West Bank village called al-Nabi Saleh.

Every Israeli has seen this footage many times by now. It has been shown again and again by all Israeli TV stations. Many millions around the world have seen it on their local TV. It is making the rounds in the social media.

The clip shows an incident that occurred near the village on Friday, two weeks ago. Nothing very special. Nothing terrible. Just a routine event. But the pictures are unforgettable.

You can read the whole piece here, and watch the video here.

Social Problems, Moral Foghorns

Last month, Amnesty International’s decision-making body meeting in Dublin voted ‘to adopt a policy that seeks attainment of the highest possible protection of the human rights of sex workers, through measures that include the decriminalisation of sex work’. The policy rests ‘on the human rights principle that consensual sexual conduct between adults is entitled to protection from state interference’. More »

The Drowning Child

‘If I am walking past a shallow pond and see a child drowning in it, I ought to wade in and pull the child out. This will mean getting my clothes muddy, but this is insignificant, while the death of the child would presumably be a very bad thing.

The uncontroversial appearance of the principle just stated is deceptive… For the principle takes, firstly, no account of proximity or distance. It makes no moral difference whether the person I can help is a neighbour’s child ten yards from me or a Bengali whose name I shall never know, ten thousand miles away. Secondly, the principle makes no distinction between cases in which I am the only person who could possibly do anything and cases in which I am just one among millions in the same position.’

Peter Singer’s (famous, and much disputed) contention in ‘Famine, Affluence and Morality’ (1972) may have acquired a new, literal force this week with the widespread dissemination of images of the drowned corpse of a three-year-old Syrian boy washed up on a Turkish beach. The pictures don’t alter Singer’s argument one way or the other, but reduce the perceived distance between Western Europe and the Eastern Mediterranean. More »

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