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Hmmm, this optimism before the climate change meeting does not sound promising. My prediction is that the groups who have formulated this report will be disappointed at the “unambitiousness” of the resulting agreement rather than be thankful that 196 different countries are able to talk and find some sort of agreement on anything.
Originally posted on green alliance blog:
A version of this post was first published by the New Statesman.
A new joint report from Green Alliance, WWF, Christian Aid, RSPB and Greenpeace believes we will have a global agreement on tackling climate change by the end of next year. If we do, it will be an exceptional event. Nations working together is no longer the fashionable way to deal with problems. The UN is looked upon as indecisive, the EU is seen as technocratic and even the United Kingdom is barely living up to its name. And yet the Prime Minister has just announced he will be heading to New York later this month to meet with other world leaders to discuss getting a global. Why would he bother?
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The UK riots during the summer were the result of people who perpetually felt outside the law, according the research by The Guardian and London School of Economics and contrary to the government’s assertion that it was solely down to criminals.
One of the starker statistics of the newspaper’s ‘Reading the Riot’ series is that 85% of 270 people who took part in the riots attributed policing as a “significant cause”. Indeed, 75% said that they had been repeatedly stopped and searched but there was also a less tangible general anger towards the lack of respect shown by the police. In other words, for the vast majority of rioters – and perhaps they represent an even larger silent group – law and the state were not about their protection but about their oppression and alienation.
If we take the riots as a series of crimes, then the first instinct is to condemn them. But, in his reading of Hegel, The end of human rights: Critical Legal Thought at the Turn of the Century, Costas Douzinas suggests that crime is in fact a cry for help by the offender. ‘The essence of crime is the criminal’s demand to be recognised and to be respected as a concrete and unique individual against the uniform coercion of the legal system.’ (p277). It is the failure to recognise people as beings who deserve respect and dignity that ultimately pushes them into alienation and then to trangress the law. (I don’t want to say this true of all criminals but certainly this could be said for many of them.) Of course, a thief often steals to meet unfulfilled needs but the law has a tendency to force people to fit into a certain mould. Crime then becomes a way for the individual to have a voice. Given the link between identity and property, it is surely not surprising that many of the crimes were acquisitive in nature (even if they did verge on the bizarre in some cases).
This lack of recognition or respect by the law can be seen clearly in the way that stop and search powers are applied disproportionately to black people and how the whole ‘War on Terror’ discourse has targetted Muslims (and arguably people who look as if they are Muslim). But the Guardian/LSE research shows that race was just one of a number of contributing factors, including poverty, unemployment and lack of education. What they all shared was a general sense of alienation and of not being a ‘part of British society’.
What happened is that whole swathes of the population have been pushed out into the environment (so to speak) of British society. There are a core group of decision-makers and direct beneficiaries at the centre and everyone else around the edges. Perhaps the Occupy movement captures this thought best with the distinction between the 99% and the 1%. (I think it’s probably more than 1% who have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo but as a slogan it’s pretty catchy.)
It was interesting that phase 1 of the ‘Reading the Riots’ research was published in the same week as the end of the climate change conference in Durban. One could argue that when the riots happened, like climate change, the environment came back to bite society on the arse. And, like climate change, it wasn’t those in power who were the victims but other parts of the environment.
In the battle against climate change, recycling and renewable energy are seen as the solutions and creating waste the problem. Perhaps the problem that led up to the riots (and other forms of alienation) is that people are treated as waste and not valued as a ‘part of British Society’. When we throw things away, the state (in the form of the local authority) collects it and disposes of it at landfills or buries it. Out of sight, out of mind, so to speak. The problem with waste is that it is never cut off from society. Pollutants will still get into the soil and the air and affect us. That’s why the law imposes an obligation on local authorities to provide recycling services. Whilst the analogy isn’t perfect, perhaps this is how the 1% sees the 99%: resources and waste of their money and power.
It was interesting that the David Cameron claimed he used his veto against the plan amend the Lisbon Treaty to solidify closer fiscal union in the Eurozone in the interests of Britain. What he considered British interests was in fact the interests of (not even the whole of) the Conservative Party and its backers and, more debatabely, the City. He even told Angela Merkel and Nicholas Sarchozy that the EU and the ECJ do not belong to them, suggesting possible legal action. So, once again, the power elite in Britain sees law as a way to maintain the status quo. The irony, according to many commentators and politicians, is that maybe Britain itself got pushed into the environment.
David Cameron should be given a break for employing former News of the World editor Andy Coulson as his press adviser. He has come under a lot of flak – accused of poor judgment – ever since he took Coulson on four years ago, following the latter’s resignation as editor in response to the phone hacking scandal.
Cameron’s defence is that people screw up, make mistakes and he believes they deserve a second chance, that they shouldn’t be continually hit around the head with their mistake. (I use the word ‘mistake’ loosely.)
Regardless of what I think of his politics, I think the Prime Minister deserves to be applauded for looking beyond the mistake, seeing the qualities of the man, and not caving in to the pressure from his judgmental opponents, as should the Daily Star Sunday for employing Glive Goodman after he was released from prison.
Maybe I am being naive. But just imagine what this world would be like if everyone who ever screwed up was not given another chance and prevented from moving on. Show me the person who has never made a mistake and I’ll show you monkey’s uncle.
With his decision to take on Coulson, I believe that David Cameron demonstrated those values of forgiveness and non-judgementalism that we all hold dear.
Of course, Coulson has not yet been convicted of a criminal offence. But the elusive second chance is a problem for ex-offenders. A lot of employers carry out Criminal Record Bureau (CRB) checks and many of them “run a mile” at the though of employing a convicted criminal. Mark Johnson of the prisoners newspaper wrote in the Guardian last year of the futility of CRB checks:
Look around you in the workplace. Ask yourself how many of the people you really know? How much do you know about their past and even their present? Admit that you know very little, so little that employers are probably safer with an ex-offender who has discussed his past and his new life openly. A clean CRB check gives a sense of security that may be entirely false, but it’s probably the narrowest way of measuring risk.“
Everyone wants to know what background checks David Cameron carried out on Coulson but Johnson argued that it is “not always necessary for an employer to know about the past”. He said that “there are many offenders who will easily slip into a working life and who pose little risk to employers”. And those that can’t should be offered the support they need.
The truth is that Cameron and the Conservative Party are not that unusual, when it comes to giving second chances. According to a survey of 474 employers interviewed by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, 51% said that they had knowingly recruited an ex-offender. Let’s hope that his action is an example to the other 49%.
This week, Prime Minister David Cameron made a speech on immigration policy and was attacked by Vince Cable, Business Secretary for being inflammatory – wrongly, in my view. Personally, I think that it is something that should be discussed because – like it or not – it is something that does concern people.
However, having just watched (for the second time) “The Day after Tomorrow”, I think that the film provides an interesting, alternative take on whole immigration issue. The film is fundamentally about what could happen if we don’t deal with global warming. However, it highlighted one possible consequence. Billions of refugees flooding from the West to the southern equatorial and southern hemisphere countries. It was shown in the film as Americans trying to get into Mexico, who at first closed their border, and Americans then crossing illegally into Mexico across the Rio Grande – in other words, a reversal of the current situation. The American refugees were only allowed across the border when the US President agreed to cancel all Latin American debt.
This could be summarised in the President’s speech at the end of the film – that what we call the Third World showed hospitality.
Here’s one reason why we in the West should be a lot more welcoming to people who come to our respective countries from what we call the Third World – why we should generally be a lot nicer. One day, most likely thanks climate change, we could need their help. And, of course, we will think it outrageous when they turn us away.