The good news is that John Howard's Liberal-National coalition looks likely to lose this weekend's general election in Australia. They're trailing Labor by up to 14 points, so a thrashing seems to be on the cards. Hooray!
The bad news is that Howard's Liberals have been up to their old tricks again. And by 'old tricks', I naturally mean 'dirty tricks'. Campaign staff in Sydney have been caught distributing false electoral material in an attempt to smear the Labor party. The leaflets, distributed in the Lindsay district of the city, purported to come from an invented Islamic organisation in alliance with the Labor party. They claimed that Labor was ready to forgive the perpetrators of the Bali bombing which killed more than 200 people, including 88 Australians (and which, justifiably, is seen in Australia as effectively a direct attack on Australia itself).
As anyone with a passing interest in Australian politics will know, this is not the first time that Howard's party have been caught red-handed. For me, the most atrocious incident brings together issues like race and manipulation and speaks volumes about the sort of man Howard is. I'm speaking, of course, of the notorious 'Children Overboard Affair' in which Howard and his ministers lied about illegal immigrants threatening their own children's lives by throwing them into the sea after being intercepted by a Royal Australian Navy vessel.
The aim was to make Howard look 'tough' on immigration. Indeed, Howard himself uttered the words "I don't want people like that in Australia", even though it has since been proven that he knew that no asylum seekers had thrown their children recklessly into the sea. What a disgraceful man.
He won the election that year. In a few days, though, he'll be out of office. So that's Aznar, Blair and Howard out. One more to go!
The news that John Howard's conservative government in Canberra is to completely ban alcohol in Aboriginal areas of Northern Territory is frankly unsurprising. Advertised as a response to an inquiry into child sex abuse in Aboriginal communities, the ban probably has far more to do with politics than anything else.
Closer inspection of the raft of new laws affecting these communities reveals a very interesting picture. Howard has seized control of indigenous affairs by citing a 'national emergency'. Among the many laws being introduced are the confiscation of family benefits for parents who buy alcohol or drugs, confiscation of family benefits for parents whose kids play truant from school and forcing some benefit claimants to perform menial tasks. None of these laws are applied to non-Aboriginal Australians who, we suspect, also have a minority involved in both alcoholism and child abuse.
The Federal Government also used its announcements to smear the NT government, which happens to be held by the opposition Labor party, despite the fact that the inquiry backed many of the territorial government's policies. Oh, is that an election coming up?
The worry is that Howard is willing to gain political points while setting Aboriginal rights back decades. This shouldn't be surprising. He's done the same sort of thing before (like when he mendaciously claimed that illegal immigrants were willing to murder their own children to enter Australia). Howard's a deeply unpleasant demagogue – the sort only Australia could produce. (I should note here that I love Australia and have spent a lot of time there… but people like Howard are among the things that really put me off the idea of living there).
Biggest story: Tony Blair will announce he's stepping down tomorrow at noon as Labour party leader. Cue 7-8 weeks of leadership-non-competition, followed by election by Labour MPs of the new PM, Gordon Brown. Blair should be remembered as: not a bad PM but not a good man either. He's done some good for the country but a lot of harm to British politics.
Catalonia: Generalitat delegate in Madrid sacked for saying ex-Pres Maragall is "physically and psychologically unwell". This is because Maragall basically admitted that the new Estatut is toothless and that the whole enterprise was a bit of a waste of time, if it didn't happen at the same time as Spanish Constitutional amendments. ERC claim he's now agreeing with them… and possibly he is, but they always say stuff like that.
USA: Romney, a candidate for the Republican party nomination said that he couldn't think of anything he dislikes about America. Fair enough… it's a tough question, I guess, for a man applying for the job of leading a nation. Maybe he doesn't like the 'bigotry' people who are suggesting that a Mormon might not be the best candidate for US President? If you ask me, anyone who believes in any kind of hocus pocus makes a bad candidate… but the people will have their way.
There's a lot of interesting spin coming out of the PM's office and the Treasury at the moment. Blair's supporters are blaming Gordon Brown for orchestrating a 'coup' and have appeared on the BBC in their droves insisting that forcing Blair out now will be 'damaging to the party' and that Brown wouldn't want to inherit that, now would he?
I take issue with the main argument here: that removing Blair ASAP will damage the Labour party, whereas allowing Blair to hang on for eight months will strengthen it. Is it not true that the single most unattractive thing about Labour is Tony Blair himself? Is it really worth hurting the party even more than it has been hurt over the last decade, just so that Blair can get his jubilee?
It looks to me as if Blair is now committed to preventing Gordon Brown from becoming leader. The eight month wait is ample time for John Reid or another loyal Blairite to establish himself as a successor to the great leader.
I wouldn't say that Brown deserves to be PM in any way. But someone needs to take over pretty quickly if Labour is to slow – and reverse – its sliding in the polls. Besides, where's the categorical difference between a coup and a transition? A coup is a transition… much quicker, of course, and sometimes bloodless.
(Oh, and by the way: anyone referring to Blair as 'Bliar' in these pages will have their IP address blocked.)
Of course it's bad that up to 100,000 (which sounds to me like a pretty high estimate) will have their travel plans affected, but what has happened at Heathrow airport over the last couple of days has been a powerful reminder of the power that working people have. Despite the castration of trade unions, the de-socialism of the Labour party and the general right wing shift in debate and politics, it is still an option to stand up for what you believe in and not cower before 'business paractice' and the threat of people taking your job away.
The strikes in solidarity that grounded British Airways show what happens when you fuck people over. You cannot treat people like that… and if you do, you deserve what ever they throw back.
On a connected note: never trust a man who has no values.
Recent leaks and admissions over exactly what Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney General said in his two bits of advice to the PM about war in Iraq has been generated by the Labour party to cloud our memories of why it is we opposed the war.
Legality was never the factor that bothered us. It was the only argument that could have been used to physically prevent our troops going into battle; but the argument against the war was always a moral one. And we were right. Today, Iraq still barely has a government, is under foreign occupation and suffers continual attacks from foreign insurgents. It seems trite to mention all this again, but there were no terrorists in Iraq until the US and the UK let them in. 21,000 civilians have died because of our greed. Half a million children died because of the hopelessly corrupt and inept UN Oil-for-Food programme and the allied air-strikes which went on for 10 years.
So now, Tony Blair says that he is happy to fight the election on trust, but at the same time, he makes the insupportable claim that if 10% of Labour voters stay at home, the Tories will get in "by the back door".
We can trust Blair on some points: he's committed to curtailing human rights in the UK; he's willing to support the phoney wars started by the US; he will intentionally mislead the government and the electorate to pursue policies he believes are right; he cannot be trusted.
Of course, Michael Howard is no better.
So it makes sense to vote for smaller parties. England would benefit from an increase in the number of parties asking for support in the election. The Lib Dems might well still be interested in introducing proportional representation as a replacement for our current system.
Give Labour a bloody nose, but don't let the Tories back in! Is what I think.