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By Babak Moussavi

5 Days in MayThe tense, uncertain days that followed the British general election in May 2010 seem like a while ago now. The Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition government, quite a novelty at first, has become so entrenched in our minds that the previous Labour administration seems to represent a different zeitgeist entirely, where the word ‘austerity’ was not even part of the political lexicon. Gordon Brown seems like ancient history, despite remaining as an MP.

One common refrain on the part of the leaders of the Coalition, in particular the Chancellor, George Osborne, is that the policies enacted have been necessary and inevitable. Indeed, the TINA argument – “there is no alternative” – is the foundation to the government’s ‘deficit-cutting’ programme. This is highly disingenuous.

But with time, it is not just the policies of the coalition, but the coalition itself that has been made to seem inevitable. With hindsight, it has been made to seem as though the only governing coalition possible was between the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats, given that this combination was the only grouping that could command a majority in the House of Commons, let alone ‘rescue’ Britain.

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By Babak Moussavi

Ed Balls Day pictureEd Balls Day is a phenomenon that could only happen in the digital age of Twitter. On April 28th 2011, Ed Balls, the shadow chancellor, accidentally tweeted his own name from his Twitter account. He was presumably searching for what people were saying about him online, and typed in the wrong box. Curiously, he didn’t delete the tweet, and it went viral. Two years later the anniversary generated some hilarious spoofs, even receiving mentions in newspapers and London Underground noticeboards. Mr Balls fortunately took the festivities in good humour, even tweeting his own name, once more.

Twitter is useful for more than comedy though, and its wider role in British politics is growing. In 2009, David Cameron, then leader of the opposition, was forced to apologise after referring to people who tweet too much as “twats”. He has since joined the microblogging site himself, and, with the help of the Conservative press team, circulates updates about his activities and policy developments. George Osborne, the chancellor, has recently jumped on the bandwagon too.

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By Babak Moussavi

Probably not a place to build your holiday home.

Probably not a place to build your holiday home.

North Korea’s autarkic regime is sabre-rattling once again, with many observers genuinely worried about an outbreak of fighting. But while the tension in the Korean peninsular continues, another dispute has been rumbling, which is equally likely to build up to a dangerous clash in the near future. While nobody really knows what exactly Kim Jong-Un’s latest bout of frothing anger is all about, the other long-brewing conflict, between regional superpowers, China and Japan, is over some small, uninhabited rocks in the sea.

International Crisis Group’s recent report on the Senkaku/Diaoyu dispute is worth reading. Based on a large number of interviews with prominent and relevant individuals from both Japan and China, the ICG report, entitled Dangerous Waters: China-Japan Relations on the Rocks, provides the context for this dispute, and explains why tension that suddenly increased late last year has not subsided. It is a worrying tale, and the report does not rule out the possibility that violence could break out – out of the blue, as it were. This article briefly summarises the ICG report.

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9/11 Wars coverBy Babak Moussavi

It is a cliché to point out that the events of September 11th 2001 changed the world. Indeed, they did. The dust of the collapsing towers of the World Trade Centre may have settled long ago, but the aftermath is still felt acutely. Nearly 12 years after the invasion of Afghanistan, principally to root out and destroy the leadership of the al-Qaeda terrorist group that was harboured there by the Taliban regime, NATO troops are still in the country, and are still fighting the Taliban. Huge numbers of mostly innocent people have died, mainly in Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other parts of the Middle East and southern and central Asia, but also in Western capitals. What happened?

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By Babak Moussavi

The-New-Few“We’re all in this together” was without doubt the most horrible slogan at the last election, given how disingenuous it sounded when uttered by George Osborne and other frontbench Conservatives. It was, according to one author, “grotesquely implausible”. It suggests that the costs of the “necessary” austerity measures would be borne by all, and that everyone would pay their fair share. One would imagine that this means those responsible for the financial crisis itself – that is, those who got rich and benefited disproportionately in the bubble years – would bear the brunt of what would euphemistically be called “structural reform”. We now know that was not the case.

The Resolution Foundation recently found that inequality in the UK has increased over the past 15 years, just as it grew in the 1980s. The top 1% of earners now absorbs 10p in every pound of income, while the bottom half take home just 18p.

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By Babak Moussavi

Labour-Liberal-Democrat-Conservative-rosettes

All votes are equal, but some are more equal than others

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that it takes fewer votes to elect a Labour than a Conservative government.” Sarah Wollaston, Conservative MP for Totnes, makes this “truth” sound like an immutable law of British politics. One does not need to be a psephologist to find this a little simplistic. The real truth that we can infer from the statement is that that she assumes there are only two parties that have a right to govern in this country, and that the rest can be safely ignored.

Yet, it seems absurd to blatantly ignore these ‘other’ parties, when the focus of Dr Wollaston’s article on Monday proceeded to directly target one of them. Indeed, Dr Wollaston condemns the third largest party, and her party’s coalition partner, the Liberal Democrats, for their apparent “betrayal” in anticipating their vote against the cherished Tory policy of boundary reform. If we assume she isn’t just being partisan (an improbable assumption), then she has evidently missed a few key points about electoral reform.

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By Babak Moussavi

Descent Into Chaos Image 2“We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality”.

The question to be asked, over 11 years after the war in Afghanistan began, was whether the unnamed, neoconservative Bush adviser who uttered the foolish comment above was deluding himself about US power, or was dreaming up a nightmare. For the Afghan people, as well as those of surrounding countries, the question is not merely abstract: the reality that was “created” was chaos.

Ahmed Rashid’s explanation for the chain of events since 9/11 (up until 2008, which was when Descent Into Chaos was published) is that it was a toxic combination of massive incompetence and dangerous ideology. Most of us, with the benefit of hindsight, would surely agree. Mr Rashid, a well-respected Pakistani journalist and author of an authoritative text on the Taliban, was usually close to where the action was taking place during the dark years of the “war on terror”, however, and has provided a meticulously detailed account of the seven years that followed for Afghanistan, Pakistan and their central Asian neighbours.

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By Babak Moussavi

If Mitt the Twit wins, where else is there to hide?

Just as they would for a World Cup final, or an Olympic 100m race, millions of people will be glued to their television screens (and probably Twitter feeds) on Tuesday evening (or, more likely, Wednesday morning) to watch the sprint finish of a much more important event. The US Presidential elections are finally happening. If Mitt the Twit wins, the world loses.

At first sight, it seems reasonable that the election is close. American politics is heavily polarised, with only two (plausible) party options at each elections. Barack Obama promised much in 2008, and was inevitably constrained by the political system. Many on the left, such as Paul Krugman, argue that he could and should have been much bolder in his initiatives, with particular regard to the stimulus package that staved off depression, and the health care reforms that were modelled on proposals offered by Republicans (albeit of a different era). Many on the right, meanwhile, set out to stop Obama on Day One, believing him to be an illegitimate imposter, hell-bent on destroying America. They are naturally disappointed that he managed to get anything done at all.

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Fresh, ripe… ready to be wasted.

By Babak Moussavi

Every year, Americans waste between 30-40% of their food. The conservative estimate equates to $48.3 billion. Britons aren’t any better. In 2007, UK consumers threw away 6.7 million tonnes of food: one third of the total purchased, equivalent to £10.2 billion. That’s almost as much as the GDP of the Republic of Congo.

These figures come from an article in the latest Fabian Society Policy Report, Revaluing Food. The report is based largely on the results of a quantitative survey conducted by the Fabian Society into food habits and waste, with further commentary by academics, policy-makers and NGO workers. It makes for some uncomfortable reading about a neglected problem.

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By Babak Moussavi

What would Mill say?

The Liberal Democrats have now governed with their Conservative coalition partners for over two years. The jury is still out though on whether they have made much of an impact on government policy, or whether they have been naïve dupes who were fooled into locking themselves into a suicidal embrace with the tougher, more ruthless Tories. Most political observers have a strong opinion either way. It is certainly an important question for the Lib Dems, who understandably insist that they have played a role in shaping policy. But if they can’t convincingly show their achievements by the time of the next election, they will be massacred.

On the face of it, it seems a little silly to suggest they have had no impact. The last budget has widely been derided as a catastrophe, but the Lib Dem policy of raising the lowest tax band was progressive and successful, and the reputation of George Osborne appears to have taken the blow. Chris Huhne and now Ed Davey have been standing up for environmental policies, irritating the Chancellor in the process. Vince Cable, the Business Secretary, ensured the most controversial aspects of the Beecroft Report would not see the light of day (yet). On political reform, the boundary reform proposals that would have benefited the Conservatives are expected to be shelved, although the flagship Lib Dem constitutional policies have also failed to materialise.

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