Archive for December, 2015

Cameron Accused of Cronyism Over New Year’s Honours

David CameronDavid Cameron has been accused of using the honours system to reward “Tory cronies and donors” after a string of allies were recognised in the New Year’s list.

The Prime Minister’s controversial general election strategist Lynton Crosby was awarded a knighthood for political service, Tory former Foreign Office minister Henry Bellingham has been given a knighthood for his services to politics and a series of party officials and volunteers also received honours.

Labour MP Graham Jones said: “The honours system is supposed to recognise dedicated public service, not simply be a vehicle to reward Tory cronies and donors. David Cameron should take care not to undermine the integrity of the system.”

Civil servants from HM Revenue & Customs, which has often faced harsh criticism from MPs, are also to be honoured.

Chief executive Lin Homer will be awarded a damehood and Dorothy Brown, director for personal tax operations, is to receive a CBE.

Labour chief whip Rosie Winterton has been awarded a damehood for services to politics and parliament in the New Year’s Honours at a time when her position is the subject of reshuffle speculation.

The party’s enforcer has risen through the ranks after a political career that began 35 years ago when she became an aide to Lord Prescott.

Ms Winterton, MP for Doncaster Central, was appointed Opposition chief whip in September 2010 when Ed Miliband took control of the party and kept the position after Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader.

Retaining the well-respected party disciplinarian in the role was seen as vital in unifying Labour after the leadership contest plunged it into turmoil.

But reports have suggested her role could be under threat following the damaging split over bombing Islamic State (IS) in Syria.

A series of senior Labour MPs showed their support for the chief whip on Twitter, congratulating her on the honour.

Shadow foreign secretary Hilary Benn – whose own position is also reported to be under threat following his impassioned speech supporting bombing in Syria – said: “Congratulations to Dame Rosie Winterton. Richly deserved. True Labour through and through.”

Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the committee on standards in public life, also criticised the honours awarded for political services.

He told the Times: “It it just honours for political favours. I don’t think we can blame this Prime Minister … I am totally against using honours for political activity. It just demeans the system.”

Shadow home secretary Andy Burnham labelled Mr Crosby’s knighthood “outrageous”.

“This outrageous award is the clearest evidence yet that the Tories think they can get away with whatever they like. It is a timely reminder that Labour must make it a New Year’s resolution to stop facing inwards and expose them for what they are,” he said.

Conservative Mark Garnier, a member of the Treasury select committee, said he could “see why people are upset” with the honour for Mr Crosby.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “He did an extraordinarily good job but I can see that some people will be very upset given the fact that these awards are seen to be given for services to the community.”

Mr Garnier has long opposed handing out honours to politicians.

He added: “Is it the right thing to give a knighthood to a political campaigner? I’m probably sympathetic with those people who think it is a bad idea.”


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Trump Returns to Economic Theme in Visit to Iowa

Trump IOWADonald Trump sought to regain his edge in the early voting state of Iowa Tuesday, returning to the themes of economic populism that helped fuel his surge toward becoming the front-runner for the Republican presidential nomination.

Most polls now show Trump trailing in the state, which holds its caucus Feb. 1, to Senator Ted Cruz of Texas. But he continues to hold the advantage in national polls

The most recent Reuters/Ipsos 5-day rolling survey showed Trump outpacing the field of likely Republican voters nationally by 39 percent, compared to Cruz at almost 14 percent.

Speaking to a large crowd in Council Bluffs, Trump vowed to return manufacturing jobs to the state.

“I really know the game,” he said while decrying the offshoring of jobs by U.S. corporations. He restated his vow to impose a 35 percent tax on goods brought into the United States by companies that utilize foreign labor in nations such as Mexico.

But Trump trained his wrath more on the presumptive Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton rather than Cruz or any of his Republican rivals.

Of the prospect of facing the first viable woman candidate for the presidency in the general election, Trump remarked, “If it has to be a woman, it shouldn’t be Hillary.”

Tuesday’s event in Iowa marked a clear shift in the race in which Trump has vowed to start using his personal fortune to bolster his candidacy in states such as Iowa, New Hampshire, and South Carolina, without entirely relying on the media attention he has garnered. He has announced an aggressive travel schedule in those states.

Moreover, Trump said earlier Tuesday he plans to run advertisements in early-voting states ahead of the first nominating contests in 2016.

“I’ll be spending a minimum of $2 million a week and perhaps substantially more,” Trump, the party’s front-runner, told reporters, according to video that aired on CNN. “I’m going to be doing big ads in Iowa, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and they’re going to be very substantial.”

“My campaign for president is $35,000,000 under budget, I have spent very little (and am in 1st place). Now I will spend big in Iowa/N.H./S.C.,” Trump tweeted earlier on Tuesday.

“Starting around January 4 we’re spending a lot of money,” he told reporters following a campaign event in Nashua, New Hampshire. “The press is hearing this for the first time, they’re probably gonna go crazy.”

Trump pledged on Tuesday to return fire with a flurry of negative ads if anyone aired spots attacking him, though he did not say whether any of his upcoming spots planned to be negative themselves.

Recent polls have showed a one-on-one race in Iowa with Ted Cruz, who, along with his allies, also has spent fairly little on television advertising. Before his event in Iowa and on Twitter, Trump continued to take digs at the advertising strategy of a primary rival: Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

“So, I have spent almost nothing on my run for president and am in 1st place. Jeb Bush has spent $59 million & done. Run country my way!” Trump tweeted.

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Virginia GOP Argues Trump Didn’t Object to Voter Signing Statement

Donald TrumpThe Virginia Republican party said that all of the major presidential campaigns, including Donald Trump’s, were informed about a “statement of affiliation” on the state’s GOP primary ballot when it was adopted in September, and no one raised an objection.

But Trump began a Twitter war Sunday with the Virginia GOP, accusing it of “working hard to disallow independent, unaffiliated and new voters. BAD!”

Voters in Virginia’s Republican primary will be required to sign their names to a nine-word statement that reads: “My signature below indicates that I am a Republican.”

The Virginia GOP accused the media of misconstruing its intent by calling the signature requirement an “oath” or “pledge.” On its website, the party argues that it “is not an ‘oath’ or ‘pledge’ in any way” and says it “is not targeting any candidate, group of voters or an unreasonable barrier to voting.”

It also has no lasting legal impact, since Virginia still doesn’t recognize party registration. A voter who signs the statement won’t be known in law as a member of any party, but the record will note that he cast a ballot in the 2016 GOP primary and signed a piece of paper that says he is “a Republican.”

Under the assumption that there will be greater turnout this cycle, the state GOP appears to have been aiming to use the affiliation statement as a means of gathering more contact information on voters, especially their email addresses and phone numbers. But only the name and signature will be required on the ballot.

The 2000 GOP Virginia primary required Republican voters to pledge not to vote in another party’s primary, and the state party points out that “That Republican primary still holds the record for highest participation in a Republican process at over 660,000 voters, with a turnout of over 17 percent.”

Whether those nine words constitute an oath or a pledge or a statement of affiliation, it’s probably rankling Trump because he performs especially well among voters who have not declared a party affiliation. Though not much polling has been done in Virginia, polls in New Hampshire show he’s popular with independents. In a recent survey by American Research Group, for example, Trump won the support of 15 percent of registered Republicans in New Hampshire, but nearly twice as many  29 percent of those who were not registered with either political party.

Trump has flirted with the idea of mounting a third-party bid if he feels the Republican Party is treating him unfairly. At the last GOP debate earlier this month, however, he said he “really” is ready to commit to not running as an independent.

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Putin and Modi Meet in Moscow to Build Stronger Relations

Modi and PutinRussian President Vladimir Putin and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hailed Thursday the “partnership” between their two nations as they oversaw the signing of energy and other deals.

However no progress was announced on an anticipated purchase of S-400 missiles, Russia’s top-of-the-line anti-aircraft defence systems.

“I see in Russia a prominent partner in India’s economic transformation,” Modi said after the two leaders agreed to ease the visa requirements between the two nations that are part of the BRICS group of leading emerging market countries.

They also oversaw the signing of several agreements involving Russia’s state nuclear corporation Rosatom and railway monopoly Russian Railways, among others.

India wants Moscow to take part in infrastructure projects as the Modi government seeks to overhaul the country’s railway network and build nuclear energy plants to meet the growing electricity needs for its fast-growing economy.

The two countries agreed on the location of a new Russian nuclear energy plant in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, with Moscow already building a nuclear plant in the state of Tamil Nadu.

Modi is seeking to ramp up the country’s nuclear energy use to meet the rising energy needs, with a programme for at least 12 new reactors, as well as reduce its heavy dependency on coal, the worst greenhouse gas producing fuel.

Modi said that Moscow and Delhi would also jointly produce Kamov-226 military helicopters as part of the Make in India initiative to have foreign companies manufacture their products in India.

Putin for his part called Russia’s ties with India a “privileged strategic partnership”, praising the two nations’ energy and defence cooperation.

“There are plans to send large-scale supplies of oil and oil products to Indian refineries in the amount of 10 million tonnes annually over the next 10 years,” Putin said after the talks.

However the two leaders were silent about the S-400, although India’s top acquisition body was reported to have cleared the purchase of the air defence system ahead of Modi’s trip.

On Thursday, Indian firm Reliance Defence said it would work with the Russian manufacturer of the S-400 “on the entire range of air defence missile and radar systems” that India needs.

But it was not immediately clear whether the two companies were close to a final deal on the missiles and the two leaders did not take any questions from reporters in Moscow.

Dipankar Banerjee, a defence analyst at Delhi-based think tank Forum for Strategic Initiatives, said India was “vulnerable to Pakistan and China both in terms of missile attacks and air strikes” and that the S-400 systems were “very desirable” despite a hefty price tag.

Russian business daily Kommersant said this week that Putin’s one-on-one talks with Modi would decide the fate of the deal as the two still needed to sort out pricing disagreements.

India could be in the market for as many as five systems, the paper said, quoting defence sources, with deals on Russian frigates also on the cards.

The Moscow trip is Modi’s first state visit to Russia since he became prime minister in 2014, but he and Putin have met several times at international events and even discussed the merits of yoga at a summit in the Russian city of Ufa last July.


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Carson Hints At Staff Shake-Up Then Not So Much

Ben CarsonRepublican presidential candidate Ben Carson said Wednesday morning he is moving toward a major shake-up of his struggling campaign, with less than six weeks to go until early voting begins to select party nominees.

Yet by Wednesday evening, he tried to steer away from that message, announcing that all is well in the Carson camp

In a Wednesday morning interview at his Maryland home, conducted without the knowledge of his own campaign manager, Carson said “personnel changes” could be coming, suggesting he would consider sidelining his top aides.

“Everything. Everything is on the table,” he said of potential changes. “Every single thing is on the table. I’m looking carefully.”

Carson’s longtime business adviser Armstrong Williams put it more bluntly: “Dr. Carson is back in charge, and I’m so happy to see that,” he said. Williams himself has publicly feuded with the paid political professionals brought in to run Carson’s campaign.

Following an afternoon meeting with some of his paid advisers Wednesday – a group that did not include Williams – Carson said in a statement that while he has 100 percent confidence in his campaign team, “we are refining some operational practices and streamlining some staff assignments to more aptly match the tasks ahead.”

The statement added that his senior team “remains in place with my full confidence, and they will continue to execute our campaign plan.”

Campaign manager Barry Bennett was not aware of Carson’s statements about potential changes until later. He later texted: “No staff shake-up.”

The apparent rift between Carson, Williams and the paid campaign staff comes after his weeks-long slide in polls. The political newcomer – a celebrated pediatric neurosurgeon – briefly surged to the top of the GOP field in October, riding public appeal for more anti-establishment candidates, while making headway with Christian and conservative voters.

With the spotlight came scrutiny. Carson publicly lashed out at media reports questioning details of his celebrated autobiography.

Terrorist attacks in Paris and California shifted the focus of the race to foreign policy and national security, sometimes highlighting Carson’s lack of experience. Another challenge: He is soft-spoken in a race dominated by media-savvy, tough-talking figures including real estate mogul Donald Trump and Texas Sen. Ted Cruz.

“I certainly don’t expect to get through a campaign without some scratches and bruises,” Carson said. “That’s the nature of the beast.”

Then came the internal disarray.

Carson had raised $31 million by the end of September, more than any other Republican in the race, but he’s outpaced the competition on spending – mostly on fundraising costs rather than critical political infrastructure.

“I recognize that nothing is perfect,” Carson said. “And, yes, we’ve had enormous fundraising, but that requires that you be efficient in the way you utilize the funds. And, yes, we are looking at all those things.”

Carson acknowledged that some of his difficulties were of his making.

He said he must prove to voters that he is up to the challenge to be commander-in-chief.

“I think I have to directly address the issue,” he said, sitting in his basement game room, where the walls around him are covered in decades’ worth of accolades.

People think that “because you are soft-spoken and nice, you can’t possibly be tough, you can’t have the strength to deal with the incredible security problems we now face,” Carson said. That “is not true, but I’m now talking about it.”

In recent campaign stops, Carson has started offering more specifics on foreign policy, such as detailing how U.S-led coalition forces can work to retake the Syrian city of Raqqa, the de-facto capital of the Islamic State group’s so-called caliphate.

Carson said he plans to put emphasis on his strategy for Libya when he returns to the trail after Christmas. He maintains that too many U.S. leaders, including some of his GOP rivals, have zeroed in on the Islamic State group’s activities in Iraq and Syria, while failing to acknowledge that they pose a threat beyond those borders.

“They have a global strategy,” Carson said of the militant group, arguing that the U.S. must counter it.

Carson said the rough-and-tumble nature of the 2016 race has not outweighed his favorite campaign moments. “The patients,” he said with a smile, explaining that he often meets former patients on the campaign trail who are eager to share their stories with him.

He recalled meeting one patient to whom he’d given a hemispherectomy – removing half the brain – as an infant. “He had graduated from college number one in his class – with half a brain,” Carson said. “These are incredible stories.”

Carson said a retooled campaign will not involve personal attacks on his Republican rivals, though he said he will look to place greater emphasis on their differences in policy and experience. He repeated his pledge to support the eventual GOP nominee if he does not win the nomination, explaining he’d respect the voters’ wishes.

Besides, Carson said, he likes his opponents – including bombastic Trump.

“There isn’t anybody there who is unpleasant,” Carson said. As an example, he noted that Trump had complimented him during the most recent GOP debate in Las Vegas.

“Then he came up to me during the break,” Carson recalled, “and said, ‘I really meant it.'”


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Hague Warns on Brexit Implications

William HagueLeaving the European Union could lead to the break-up of the United Kingdom while “gravely weakening” its former continental partners, former foreign secretary William Hague has warned.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Lord Hague said Scottish nationalists would jump at the chance to re-open the independence debate if there was a vote to leave the EU in the forthcoming referendum on Britain’s continued membership – now expected next year.

At the same time, he said, the loss of one of the EU’s only two “respected military powers” would leave the bloc seriously weakened at a time of political turbulence and economic volatility.

“To end up destroying the United Kingdom and gravely weakening the European Union would not be a very clever day’s work. So, even as a long-standing critic of so much of that struggling organisation, I am unlikely in 2016 to vote to leave it,” he wrote.

Lord Hague is the latest senior Conservative to enter the increasingly intense debate on Britain’s EU future, amid warnings it could open up a new “civil war” within the party.

While he insisted that he remained a Eurosceptic – describing the EU as “remote, expensive and over-regulating” – he said it was “manifestly not in our interests” for it EU to fail.

“There is no doubt that without the United Kingdom, the EU would be weaker,” he wrote.

“We will have to ask, disliking so many aspects of it as we do, whether we really want to weaken it, and at the same time increase the chances, if the UK left the EU, of Scotland leaving the UK.

“Scottish nationalists would jump at the chance to reverse the argument of last year’s referendum – now it would be them saying they would stay in Europe without us.

They would have the pretext for their second referendum, and the result of it could well be too close to call.”

Meanwhile Conservative Party vice-chairman Mark Field rejected calls for ministers to be given a free vote in the referendum and said that any who were not prepared to back David Cameron’s re-negotiation should resign from the Government.

“I have the greatest respect for all those in my party who believe we should leave the EU, but clearly such a position is incompatible with holding a ministerial office in advance of the referendum,” he told The Daily Telegraph.

“What I don’t accept is individual ministers believing they should publicly have a free rein or that they can, in an off-the-record way, spend the next few months undermining the Prime Minister’s package of renegotiation. That is quite wrong.”

John Redwood said he “knew” of six Cabinet members who believe the Prime Minister will not get a good enough deal from other European leaders to support staying in the EU.

Mr Redwood added that there were “many more” junior ministers who held the same view.

He told the BBC: “I don’t think Mr Cameron would want to [continue as leader], because you would need someone who believes in leaving, who could go to France and Germany, who could sort it out in an amicable but firm way.

”We know that Mr Cameron wishes to retire from the job of Prime Minister before the general election anyway, so I’m sure we would then choose a new leader who really believed in leaving and who would do us a really good deal.”

The ‘In campaigners’ fear dislike of the Government could increase support for the ‘Out campaign’ and its followers would be further motivated if they believed Mr Cameron would be ousted by a vote to quit the EU.

Mr Redwood said there was a feeling among Tory MPs that the deal Mr Cameron hopes to make in February will not be enough to persuade them to back him.



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Iraqi Security Forces In Fight to Retake Ramadi

Iraqi ArmyIraq’s armed forces stormed the center of Ramadi on Tuesday, a spokesman for the counter-terrorism units said, in a drive to dislodge Islamic State militants from their remaining stronghold in a city they captured in May.

The operation to recapture Ramadi, a Sunni Muslim city on the river Euphrates some 100 km (60 miles) west of Baghdad, began in early November after a months-long effort to cut off supply lines to the city, whose fall to Islamic State was a major defeat for Iraq’s weak central government.Progress has been slow because the government wants to rely entirely on its own troops and not use Shi’ite militias in order to avoid rights abuses such as occurred after the recapture of the city of Tikrit from the militants in April.

“Our forces are advancing toward the government complex in the center of Ramadi,” the counter-terrorism units’ spokesman Sabah al-Numani said. “The fighting is in the neighborhoods around the complex, with support from the air force.”Iraqi intelligence estimates the number of Islamic State fighters entrenched in the center of Ramadi, capital of Western Anbar province, at between 250 and 300.

“It’s ferocious fight, it’s premature to say how long it will take but we can say victory will be achieved in a few days,” Numani said.

Dozens of militants had been killed, said Brigadier Gen. Yahya Rasool, spokesman of the joint operations command, declining to give a casualty toll for the armed forces.

The offensive to capture the city center started at dawn, said Numani. Military units crossed the Euphrates river into the central districts using a bridge that was destroyed by the militants and fixed by army engineers, and another floating bridge set up to bring in more forces, he said.”Crossing the river was the main difficulty,” he said. “We’re facing sniper fire and suicide bombers who are trying to slow our advance, we’re dealing with them with air force support.”

If the attack to capture Ramadi succeeds, it will be the second major city after Tikrit to be retaken from Islamic State in Iraq.

Islamic State also controls Mosul, Iraq’s second largest city, and Falluja, which lies between Ramadi and Baghdad. Retaking Ramadi would provide a major psychological boost to Iraqi security forces after Islamic State seized a third of Iraq, a major OPEC oil producer and U.S ally, last year.

U.S. officials have cautioned against the use of Iran-backed Shi’ite militias in retaking Ramadi from the hardline Sunni militants to avoid further fanning sectarian tensions.


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