Tuesday, December 13, 2005

You don’t need a justification for clemency

At 8.35am GMT, former gang leader Stanley ‘Tookie’ Williams was executed by lethal injection at San Quentin prison in Northern California, having been convicted 24 years ago of four murders. The Militant Pine Marten will not argue whether or not he was guilty, since it lacks any real knowledge of the evidence presented or the circumstances, but that isn’t strictly relevant here. Suffice to say that Williams always denied his guilt.

Williams’ last chance for a stay of execution was an appeal for clemency to the Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican Governor of California by the Grace of Loki the Trickster God presumably. It’s quite often suggested in the media that although Schwarzenegger is part of the Republican top brass, he’s actually a closet liberal. Certainly socially, he’s perceived to be rather more liberal than George Bush, but then that’s not terribly difficult. The problem is that I haven’t seen any evidence of his alleged liberal leanings. Stepping in to stop gay weddings in Sacramento doesn’t strike me as very socially liberal, and approving the state-sponsored killing of a man who may have been a murderer, and may or may not have been repentant isn’t very liberal either.

I’m not idly questioning the jury in this case’s integrity or judgement, I’m basing what I say on Schwarzenegger’s own words. Last week, the governor said that he was "agonizing" over the case. Well you don’t agonize over things that you’re certain of, and even within a legal system that allows the State to take away its’ citizens’ lives, surely being unsure of their guilt is reason enough to show clemency? However it does not appear that Schwarzenegger thinks like that, stating, "I could find no justification for granting clemency".

This is an abhorrent statement. You don’t need to justify clemency. But you do need to explain why you let someone die, and you’d better be damned sure that he’s guilty. Something which Schwarzenegger was not. So why did he sanction Williams’ death? The obvious explanation is that he did it to align himself with influential figures and sections of the Republican Party grassroots, which is understandable in the context of political skulduggery. Only political machinations in a democracy don’t usually involve anyone’s death, especially not in a country that is the self-appointed global guardian of freedom, democracy and the legacy of the Enlightenment. For a group of proselytising Christians, Bush and his friends seem to have surprisingly little grasp of the concept of forgiveness. This continuing appetite for judicial revenge all seems a bit ‘Old Testament’.

In two years’ time, Bush will leave the White House, and his gang of neocon zealots with him. They haven’t exactly covered themselves in glory. At which point there’s a good chance that Schwarzenegger will be secure among the Republican nomenklatura whether he demonstrates a little effortless magnanimity or not. He can afford to make a point, to affirm what he stands for, if he really is a liberal Trojan donkey in the midst of the Republicans. But maybe he’s just a Macchiavellian greasy pole climber. Either way, I doubt that it will have been worth going to bed every night knowing he wasn’t quite sure if that man should have died or not.

"Crom, I have never prayed to you before. I have no tongue for it. No one, not even you, will remember if we were good men or bad." - Conan The Barbarian, 1982

"Yes we bloody well will." – The Militant Pine Marten, 2005

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Watch the Right, watch the Left and watch your back*

Could someone please explain to me what exactly it is that El Caudillo Blair is currently trying to achieve in Europe? If you cast your minds back to June 2005, you may remember Tony Blair’s barnstorming performance at the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It was all talk of breaking the deadlock, giving the EU a new sense of direction and impetus, moving forwards with our new partners from the East, making Europe modern, forward looking, and if you think that sounds familiar, it’s because it’s classic Vintage Tony circa 1997 and you’ve heard it all before. Most of the MEPs hadn’t been as overexposed as the UK electorate to old-style Tony magic, and once again it worked. Tony must have been delighted.

In much of Europe, Tony Blair enjoys something of a reputation as a miracle worker. He seems to be able to do nothing wrong. He even managed to avoid serious electoral retribution over the Iraq debacle for goodness sake! He’s also seen by many as Socialism’s new hope. A Jedi of the Left who will restore balance to progressive politics. And much of the UK electorate believed that once too. So it’s understandable that when six months later, the achievements of the UK’s stint at the presidency of the EU are precisely nothing at all, many of our European partners feel rather aggrieved. In fact Le Monde, which has been having a misguided love-in with Blair for a few years now, has stopped only slightly short of calling him a coward and a traitor:

“Despite his critics, Tony Blair may yet achieve his goal. Lacking the courage to define his European policy and explain it to his electorate, the ardent European enlargement enthusiast that he was risks promoting Euroscepticism in the East, just 19 months after they joined the Union”.

However making a mess of EU policy after building up expectations is one thing. But Blair’s current budget looks like a deliberate attempt to alienate everyone. The EU budget is in its current fix because the two biggest bullies in the playground are having a fight and won’t let anyone else have any fun until it’s over. The Franco-German camp won’t budge on the CAP reforms voted in 2002, that are currently in progress, and the UK won’t budge on its rebate obtained by Margaret Thatcher in 1984, when the UK was a much lesser economic force. But Blair’s proposed budget involves “refunding” some of the rebate to the richest countries in the EU and cutting the amount of money going to the poorer new members. This is a simplification obviously, but it looks a lot like a snub to countries that Blair had been happy to consider the UK’s natural allies in “New Europe”.

But while Blair has been busy winding up all of Europe, trouble has been stirring at home, in the form of David Cameron, the new leader of the Conservative Party, who have been a joke party for the best part of a decade. Thanks to an uncharacteristic moment of collective lucidity, the Tory members didn’t elect the worst candidate for once. David Cameron is all smiles, affability and witty comments and in that way reminiscent of a chubbier version of Tony Blair a few years ago. In terms of giving the Tories a chance of actually winning an election, he’s a very good choice. The question though is that of what he stands for. Having given up on working out what Tony Blair is all about, I’d like to know what his new sparring partner is for?

Today he gave us a very small glimpse of that. In a demonstration of uncharacteristically slick political operating for the Tories, the day after his election, the new leader made his first policy statement, and of all things it was about social justice. Social Justice! Oh! David! Bold move there, straight for the Labour jugular! The Tories can’t do social justice, that’s a Lefty area, surely? The Militant Pine Marten was intrigued and impressed. And then it came. David Cameron is “deeply committed to social action for social justice”. And there we have it: David Cameron has been watching Blair’s technique, and he’s going to do the same. He’s going to use rhetoric that suggests that there is a great hopeful generous plan, an optimistic progressive ideology. And actually, there will be surveys, focus groups, Parliamentary Working Groups, consultations and mainly a load of marketing drivel and management consultancy jargon with some branding. Full marks to David Cameron. If I may, I’d like to suggest that Sir Digby Jones should be invited to join the “Social Justice Group”.

The political landscape in the UK may be shifting, but not necessarily in a very encouraging way. Tony should watch the Right. David should watch the Left. And we should all watch our backs.

*I admit to adapting this from an Anti-Flag lyric, but in exchange I’ll plug the album. It's only fair.