Indiscriminate Attacks

Unlawful and Deadly, Amnesty International’s recent report on ‘rocket and mortar attacks by Palestinian armed groups during the 2014 Gaza/Israel conflict’, accuses Hamas and others of carrying out ‘indiscriminate attacks’ on Israel: ‘When indiscriminate attacks kill or injure civilians, they constitute war crimes.’

The report reiterates a formal symmetry between Israelis and Palestinians (previous reports have accused Israel of war crimes during Operation Protective Edge), asking both parties to take all precautions to respect civilian lives, and reminding them to ‘choose appropriate means and methods of attack’. More »

Episode Four: 0-0-0-0-0-0-0

Front page of the Guardian: ‘Labour buoyed as Miliband edges Cameron in snap poll.’ Front page of the Telegraph: ‘Miliband flops as outsiders shine.’ The Mail: ‘Runaway jihadi’s father is Labour activist.’ The Sun, over photo of Miliband: ‘Oops! I just lost my election.’

ICM scored it as a narrow win for Miliband, YouGov for Sturgeon, Comres as a three-way tie between Cameron, Miliband and Farage, and Survation the same except with Farage a point behind. In other words, it was a draw. The main outcome, probably, is that nobody had a disaster; it’s not so much about winning as about not losing, and on this occasion there was no obvious loser. More »

Episode Three: Clowns to the left of me, jokers to the right

Tonight’s seven-way leaders’ debate is going to make for a bizarre couple of hours’ telly. The format goes like this: there will be an opening statement by each of the seven party leaders. Then the moderator asks all of them a question to which they each give a one-minute answer, followed by an 18-minute free-for-all debate. Repeat for a total of four moderator’s questions, 28 replies, and four free-for-alls. Then closing statements from all seven leaders in turn. Here’s the sequence:

itv debate order

A structured seven-way debate like this resembles nothing at all in most peoples’ lives, and that in turn will probably make it look as if the politicians on show also have nothing in common with anyone watching. The likelihood of anyone knowing anything substantively new after it is small, but the possibility of some form of drama is pretty high. I’m using the term drama to include comedy. More »

Is there hope for Nigeria?

I have never made a secret of my distaste for Muhammadu Buhari – ‘the least awful option’, according to the Economist – and I am not doing so now that he has been declared winner of the presidential election in Nigeria. One of the more notorious dictators during the long years of the military, he now claims to be a born-again democrat. Perhaps so. All will be revealed after he moves into Aso Rock on 29 May, with the proviso that he will be obliged to work within the terms of a constitution he cannot abrogate by decree. More »

At the SNP Conference

At 5 p.m. on 18 September 2014 the Scottish National Party had 25,642 members. Last Saturday afternoon Nicola Sturgeon announced that membership was 102,143 and rising. After the referendum, it was thought that the new intake – widely assumed to be more leftwing – might undermine the nationalists’ discipline. But there was little discord among the 3000 people at Glasgow’s SECC last weekend for the SNP spring conference.

Resolutions on all-women shortlists, land reform and the Chagos Islands passed almost unanimously. Sturgeon pledged that her party would block David Cameron’s attempts to return to Downing Street. She said that the SNP would supply the ‘backbone and guts’ needed to force Labour to construct a radical post-election government. Trident would go; austerity would slow; the minimum wage would rise by £2. The loudest cheer came for a call to scrap the House of Lords. More »

Rhodes Must Fall

Cecil Rhodes contemplating the bright future of South African rugby

Cecil Rhodes contemplating the bright future of Springbok rugby

The controversy over a statue of Cecil Rhodes at the University of Cape Town took a serious turn in March when a student at the university slathered it with excrement. Post-clean-up, UCT is agonising about whether the statue should go now or go later. The ‘Rhodes Must Fall’ campaign is making headway and it could soon be safely out of the way. A week from now the UCT senate will recommend to the university’s council that it ‘be moved’. More »

Episode Two: Listen to Reagan

The voice of reason

The voice of reason

Most of the time, the question that decides an election is the one everyone remembers being put by Ronald Reagan: ‘Are you better off than you were four years ago?’ It’s a good question, but at the moment in the UK it’s also a difficult one to answer. Yesterday, George Osborne triumphantly tweeted about the latest numbers. ‘GDP revised upwards from 2.6% to 2.8% for 2014,’ he said, and also: ‘Real household disposable income per capita up strongly on quarter & year… Living standards higher than in May 2010.’ That might sound like a clear answer to Reagan’s question. But the numbers are squidgier than they look at first sight. More »

Thirteen Angry Men

In November 2011, Bocar, a teacher in his early thirties, had just had dinner with his parents and was leaving their flat in the centre of Saint-Ouen, a suburb of Paris, accompanied by his two younger sisters, aged 16 and 21. ‘I saw a group of eight or nine police officers, from the BAC,’ he told me (Brigade anti-criminalité). ‘One hurried towards me, took my arm and pushed me to the side. I asked him what he was doing. “Police,” he said, and shoved me to the wall. I tried turning and he shouted: “Police! Do you want me to taser you?” So I told him to do whatever he had to and that I would do the same and file a complaint to Internal Affairs. He realised there was something wrong then – saw that I was educated and knew what my rights were. I could feel his colleagues were embarrassed. Some were keeping my sisters to the side. The officer kept behaving in an intimidating way, checked my ID, didn’t find anything – I have no criminal record – searched me, and after 20 minutes he let me go.’ More »

Election Diary: Episode One

The general election campaign started today, which is strange, because it already feels as if it’s been going on for ever. The reason for that lies in the electoral rules set up in 2000, which set limits to spending during the festivities. The ‘long campaign’ began on 19 December 2014. During it, candidates can spend £30,700 per constituency plus 9p per constituent in the countryside or 6p per constituent in town. Today, 30 March, is the start of the ‘short campaign’, during which the respective limits are £8700 plus 9p/6p. This long/short campaign thing explains why it feels as if the election has been running since the dawn of time, and yet nobody’s said anything interesting and nothing has happened. I’m not sure how I feel about the fact that between now and 7 May, every political party in the UK is allowed to spend 6p on me. You can’t buy much with 6p, not even a vote, which is no doubt part of the point. More »

Labour Mugs

Who needs Ukip?

For sale at the Labour Party shop. Who needs Ukip?

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