Connect with us


Covid-19: Pandemic highlights Wales' devolved politics – BBC News



The most obvious impact of the Covid pandemic on Welsh politics can be seen at the 160-mile border between Wales and England.

It’s porous and it’s populous – around 16 million people live within 50 miles of it.

Before Covid, there were 2.6 million journeys across it every week on average.

The busy interactions of border life could easily disguise the fact that for the last 20 years Welsh governments have pursued different policies to England on things such as schools and health.

The pandemic brought that reality home like nothing else and people like Deborah Burch have found themselves on the front line.

Deborah runs The Boat Inn in Penallt, which has nestled into the banks of the River Wye for centuries.

The Boat is also right on the border where a footbridge over the river provides a two-minute walk into England.

So Deborah’s found herself doing a lot of explaining that Covid rules are different in Wales.

“We get information from the council so we’re luckier than the customers because we sort of know what’s going on, but it’s quite hard to relay all that to the people that are coming.”

She says the pub is so close to England that customers “don’t know they’re in Wales half the time, so it does get complicated”.

After the months of a national lockdown, Deborah says Covid has raised her customers’ awareness of devolution on both sides of the border.

“I think possibly before people didn’t realise there were two governments. I think everybody’s a bit more politically aware now.”

Her staff and customers agree.

I spoke to an English couple on a walking holiday in the Wye valley who’d stopped to enjoy the scenery with a glass of wine.

“We went to north Wales earlier on in the year and everything was shut, which came as a bit of shock,” they say. “We knew about devolution, but we didn’t realise it made things so different.”

Elisha and Tom work at The Boat. They’ve found themselves serving up explanations of devolution along with pints and pub lunches.

Neither of them were old enough to vote in the last set of Welsh Parliament elections, but next year they will be.

Has the pandemic made a difference to their intention to vote?

“This has made me more likely to vote, yeah,” says Tom.

“It’s kind of shown there are some slight differences and if voting makes an impact on that, I am more likely to vote in them.”

Elisha tells me she was always planning to vote next year, but the rules “have been quite different at times so it’s definitely made things a bit clearer”.

So if the pandemic has led to an increased awareness of devolution, does that mean turnout will be higher in the elections to the Welsh Parliament next year?

Up to now, turnout in Senedd elections has never breached the 50% mark.

Laura McAllister, professor of governance at Cardiff University, warns against making assumptions.

“There are no guarantees. Knowledge doesn’t necessarily mean interest and engagement,” she says.

“There are other factors that affect turnout, like whether there is a real sense that there will be competition in that election.

“Polling suggests the three big parties all look like they could get a substantial chunk of seats, which poses really interesting questions about what kind of government we will have.

“And if that forms the conversation in the months leading up the elections, people will think ‘my vote will make a difference’.”

While we’re still in the middle of the Covid pandemic, it’s hard to draw concrete conclusions about how it’s shaping Welsh politics.

So much remains uncertain, including exactly how next May’s elections might be conducted if Covid rules are still in place.

But the voters will, as they always do, provide us with some answers.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source link


As Lebanon's Hariri appears to make a comeback, a popular uprising turns into a political front – CNN



Issa — a bespectacled 63-year-old who is Secretary General of Lebanon’s non-sectarian National Bloc party — was one of thousands of people who were injured in the August 4 explosion at the Beirut port which laid waste to large parts of the capital. 
Over 200 others perished and the Lebanese state appeared on the verge of collapse. Two days later, Macron flew into Beirut to cobble together emergency aid, as well as a political resolution. He brought traditional politicians together in an attempt to resolve their disputes, and met with humanitarian workers and civil society actors.
Activists gather at National Bloc headquarters, which was damaged during a deadly August 4 blast in Beirut, for a large clean-up campaign in the wake of the explosion.
“I thanked him for his humanitarian help, but I thanked him for nothing else,” Issa told CNN about his meeting with Macron at the house of the French ambassador, the palatial Residénce des Pins where 100 years ago Lebanon was declared a state. 
Issa said he berated Macron for excluding major figures in Lebanon’s year-long popular uprising from talks about the crisis-ridden country’s immediate political future.
According to Issa, Macron, in turn, told him what he would that evening repeat to members of the Lebanese press: that the political alternative to Lebanon’s loathed confessional power-sharing system does not yet exist, and that the country’s reform process — later known as “the French initiative” — would have to be enacted through traditional sectarian political parties.  
The French presidential palace declined to comment on the conversation. 
The exchange between Issa and Macron, which occurred during the French president’s meeting with civil society actors, was one of the clearest signs that Lebanon’s uprising has been working to chart a new course.  
The popular movement which began last October 17 has shied away from political participation, largely refused to negotiate with the country’s sectarian leadership, and insisted that it was a “leaderless” grouping expressing widespread disgruntlement with the ruling political elite.  
But as an economic meltdown gripped the country, destroying millions of livelihoods and causing poverty levels to soar, the euphoria of the protests gave way to despair. The coronavirus pandemic has also limited people’s ability to flock to the streets. Prominent protest figures have disappeared from Lebanese television’s prime-time talk shows, and traditional sectarian politicians, who were personae non gratae in the early weeks of the demonstrations, have again taken center stage.  
Adding to the sense that Lebanon’s political mood is making a 360-degree turn is the apparently imminent return of former Prime Minister Saad al-Hariri as the country’s premier. Hariri resigned following huge street protests in October 2019. This Thursday, he is widely expected to be tasked with forming the country’s next government during parliamentary consultations.   
People in Beirut march on October 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of anti-government protests.People in Beirut march on October 17 to mark the one-year anniversary of the start of anti-government protests.
Hariri would take over from caretaker Prime Minister Hassan Diab, a technocrat who was brought to power by a Hezbollah-backed parliamentary coalition majority. Diab stepped down about a week after the August 4 explosion as Beirut’s streets roiled with angry demonstrations. The so-called French initiative which brokered the political process following the blast led to the naming of a Hariri-backed diplomat, Mustapha Adib, for the premiership. 
In less than a month, Adib stepped down as PM-designate and Hariri re-emerged as the country’s most likely contender for prime minister.
It’s a situation that has prompted protesters to take pause, to discuss the shortcomings of what many call “the October revolution.” And they say it has also pushed them to shift gears.  
A political front composed of non-sectarian opposition groups will be announced in the coming weeks, says Issa. His center-right National Bloc party recently forged an alliance with the non-sectarian, left-leaning Citizens in a State party (Mouwatinoun wa Mouwatinat fi dawla), as part of a bid to build a coalition that seeks to dismantle Lebanon’s ruling elite. 
Other civil society groups have also morphed into political parties and are coalescing into alliances.
“Practically speaking, people have understood that in order to break the ceiling we must create a political front,” said Issa. “Today we are all voices in the desert. We have a common enemy and a common goal. We need to topple the ruling political system.” 

From street to office 

On a quiet side-street in eastern Beirut, a group of activists are concocting tactics to keep demonstrations peaceful during the commemorations of the uprising’s anniversary last weekend. This is what Lebanon’s popular movement now looks like, they say: activists taking to their laptops and organizing.  
“I do believe that we destabilized (the ruling elite’s) presence in a way they would have never imagined,” said 29-year-old Ziad Nassar, a Doha-based business consultant and Lebanese activist. “There was a Berlin Wall before separating people in this country, between sects, and political parties.”  
“What happened on October 17 is we broke a wall.”  
National Bloc Secretary General Pierre Issa speaking at the street protests in the early weeks of Lebanon's popular uprising.National Bloc Secretary General Pierre Issa speaking at the street protests in the early weeks of Lebanon's popular uprising.
Former minister Charbel Nahas leads the Citizens in a State party which is part of Lebanon's budding non-sectarian political opposition Former minister Charbel Nahas leads the Citizens in a State party which is part of Lebanon's budding non-sectarian political opposition
But like many activists in Beirut, they say that the coming together of a population traditionally split between sectarian parties is not enough. They’re especially worried about being ill-prepared for parliamentary elections expected to be held in roughly 18 months from now.  
“What the revolution should gear to … is focusing on the elections,” said 33-year-old business strategist and activist Sarmad Nabti. “If we don’t take advantage of the time we have now to do that, then the hope is gone.  
We’re definitely going from street to office.”  
Activists acknowledge Hariri’s expected return as a setback. “I won’t accept it,” said Nabti. “I’ll either leave or go back to the streets.” 
“We will go down to the streets and we will pressure either until he falls or until he proves us wrong,” said Nassar.  
“Hariri and this regime can’t give us our services, because to satisfy their way of politics, they can’t form a real government,” said 25-year-old activist Tarek Khalil.  
Hariri is part of the ruling elite, and backed by Saudi Arabia. He’s also seen as the leader of the country’s Sunni community. Lebanon’s confessional power-sharing system allots the premiership to a Sunni Muslim.
But many in Lebanon argue that a Hariri government, particularly one that satisfies the demands of the international donor community, is imperative. The three-time prime minister appears to have the backing of the international community. If he manages to form a rescue government, he could unlock over $10 billion in pledged funds, potentially staving off collapse in a country where foreign currency reserves are rapidly drying up.  
French President Emmanuel Macron meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on August 31.French President Emmanuel Macron meets former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri in Beirut on August 31.
“Under all this pressure, we are in the emergency room and we need treatment,” Yassin Jaber, an independent MP affiliated with Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri’s Liberation and Development Bloc, told CNN. 
“The doctor needs to be a government that comes in to do the necessary cleaning up, the necessary patching. And then we look at the confessional system, when we are in better health than we are in at the moment.”  
The parliamentary bloc Jaber is affiliated one of those political groups widely accused of corruption by the popular movement. Jaber insists that not all politicians in the ruling elite are involved in wrongdoing but acknowledges that government corruption is widespread.
Speaking about the protest movement which Jaber says he “saw coming,” he argues that the absence of a political structure caused its eventual fizzling out.  
“Movements like this need a face. They need leadership and that’s what was lacking. You had many people talking here and there but there was no organized leadership,” said Jaber.  
Back at the Résidence des Pins, Macron made a similar defense for his limited engagement with the protest movement, according to Issa.   
“He said ‘where are you all? Where is this political alternative? Announce your front so that we can speak to you,'” recalled Issa. 
“I said ‘can’t you see us? In any case, the opposition front is En Marche, Mr. Macron,'” Issa said. It was a play on the name of the French leader’s party, and an allusion to the idea that a movement “in progress” could also, one day, be a force to be reckoned with.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source link

Continue Reading


What to Do When Your Coworker Brings Up Politics – Harvard Business Review



Cactus Creative Studio/Stocksy

Political topics have always been challenging in the workplace, but never more than now. In the past, the goal was to avoid escalation. Today the conversation often starts heated. Furthermore, they can feel unavoidable, especially if they’re sprung on you with no warning.

For example, imagine you’re on a Zoom call discussing accelerating a project deadline when your colleague, “Ned,” says, “This is a product release, not a vaccine.” And that was the fourth time in just this meeting he has laced his comments with politics. You can tell others feel he’s not just making jokes but pushing his opinions. What should you do?

No one wants to get into a heated debate with their coworkers, especially over Zoom or the phone. Fortunately, there are ways to venture into these topics that both yield a much higher likelihood of healthy dialogue, and leave you an exit path if it appears that’s not possible. I’ve found it’s possible to talk openly about far more controversial issues than we usually think, as long as you bring three things to the conversation: curiosityboundaries, and humility.

Years ago in London, I hailed a taxi for the 45-minute trip from the Gatwick airport to my hotel. After I informed the driver of my destination, he turned to face me and said, “You have an American accent. Are you American?”

“Yes,” I responded.

His eyes grew wide, he craned his neck to look back at me, and with great vehemence yelled a curse on the U.S. President.

It was late at night. I was tired. I weighed my willingness to engage in an energetic conversation and as I considered ignoring the comment I thought, “I should be able to do this. I should be able to talk to someone with a strong opinion even if I don’t fully agree.”

“Not too worried about your tip, I take it?” I said and smiled at his eyes in the mirror.

He broke into a broad grin, but it quickly disappeared. He repeated his curse a second time. Then he quickly moved into a lengthy indictment of U.S. foreign policy. His voice got louder and his face redder the more he spoke. He paused only long enough to draw a breath and it was clear he had more than 45 minutes’ worth of material he intended to share.

Ironically, I was in London to lecture about a book I had recently co-authored about politically and emotionally risky conversation. Given my itinerary, I felt a special obligation to practice what I was about to preach. So, I committed to attempt turning the remaining 40 minutes into a meaningful dialogue.

Remarkably, it worked. Of course, I knew once I got to my hotel that I wouldn’t have to see the driver again, but I was still invested in having a civil, and even productive, conversation. Next time you find yourself drawn into a discussion with someone who has strong political views, whether it’s a stranger or your colleague from another department, here are the three things you want to bring with you.


Our temptation when someone comes on strong is to either shut down or amp up. We might withdraw into silence, feigning attention while seething in quiet judgment; or we fight for space, matching or exceeding the others’ provocative certainty. Both approaches produce more heat than light.

The way to turn conflict into conversation begins with curiosity. Curiosity is a virtue that need only to be practiced to be passed. It’s remarkable to see how quickly a debate deescalates when one party begins sincerely inquiring into the views of the other. And there almost always comes a point when the one being authentically heard involuntarily reciprocates.

For example, once your call ends, you could invite Ned to hang on the connection for a moment. Then start with something like, “Hey Ned, four times in the meeting you made comments that sounded like you were expressing your political views. If at some point you want to discuss those, I’m all ears.”

You don’t have to renounce your views in order to practice curiosity. All you have to do is set them aside. Don’t worry, you can pick them back up as soon as the conversation is done. But if you’re simultaneously clutching yours while conversing about others’, you’ll do justice to neither task. You shouldn’t consider your curiosity satisfied until you see the integrity of their position: how the experiences, perspective, and information they bring leads sensibly to the conclusion they hold.


The problem with Ned’s offhanded comments in your meeting is the fact that he was turning a business meeting into a political platform. As you invite Ned into a conversation, you should also ask him to honor meeting boundaries. Assuming Ned shows an interest in sharing his views with you, you should first add, “And Ned, can I ask that in the future you avoid those kinds of comments in our meetings? That’s not the time or place for it. Okay?”

Setting boundaries at the beginning of a conversation is also helpful if you’re worried it might go off the rails. Before jumping into opinions, first, set the table. Ask for agreement on some boundaries, or ground rules that will keep things civil and balanced. Even people who disagree wildly about specific policies can usually agree quickly on simple rules of civil discourse. And if you gain their agreement before emotions escalate, they’ll often self-monitor in a way that keeps things somewhat healthy. And if they don’t, be sure you set a boundary about how you’ll handle it when someone violates the other rules.

Here’s how I set the table for a conversation with my taxi driver. I didn’t wait for him to pause as I didn’t sense one was coming anytime soon. Instead, I patted the back of his seat to interrupt him, and made him a proposition.

“I’m very interested in hearing your views,” I said. “I may agree with some of them but disagree with others. But I want equal time. Tell you what, can we agree that you get the first 10 minutes, then I get the next 10 minutes? If either of us gets too angry at the other, we’ll stop and ride quietly to my hotel. If it goes well, we might both be a little smarter when we’re done. Deal?”

He laughed heartily, turned to face me full on and said, “That’s a deal.”


If you come to the conversation curious, you will almost always leave smarter. But only if you bring the third ingredient: humility.

It’s rare that when you begin to genuinely inquire into others’ experiences that you don’t find things that surprise you, teach you, and improve you. The sobering truth is that we don’t arrive at many of our most cherished opinions starting with a blank page. Whether we are Christian or Muslim, conservative or liberal, prefer Coke or Pepsi, our ideas are shaped more by the groups we identify with than the facts we sift through.

When we listen sincerely to others, we’re often humbled as we recognize how fragile the foundation of our own convictions can be. When that happens, have the integrity to concede those points. The more you point out areas of agreement, especially ones that involve relinquishing of previously cherished “facts,” the more likely the other person is to feel safe doing the same.

Ten minutes into my taxi ride, I was loath to interrupt the driver for my turn. I was so struck with the insight I was gaining seeing my country’s foreign policy from a 12,000-kilometer distance that I didn’t want to stop. I don’t know that my taxi-driver friend ended up seeing the world any differently when we were done with that ride, but I did. Not that my opinions were profoundly altered, but they became nuanced in a way that I was grateful for.

The same will happen with Ned if you are truly humble. Don’t approach the conversation with a goal of passing judgment. Approach it with the goal of understanding how Ned’s world works. If you do this well, you’ll begin to see how, given the information and experiences he has, he would come to the conclusions he holds. Feelings of derision are evidence that my motive is to convert not to learn.

Next time you cringe with apprehension when a colleague seems intent on bringing politics into a workplace conversation, take a breath. Then replace your judgment with curiosity. Consider putting up boundaries that move the conversation to the proper time and place, increase the likelihood of balanced dialogue, and provide an off ramp if needed. Swap certainty for humility. Perhaps these practices won’t immediately bring about world peace, but they’ll certainly increase the likelihood of meaningful conversation at work.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source link

Continue Reading


Watchdogs Examine Pompeo's Election-Year Politics For Law Breaking – NPR



Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has been far more overtly political than his predecessors, raising ethics concerns about his possible Hatch Act violations.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Source link

Continue Reading