The price of regime change

Bomb attacks in Iraq show that elections do not guarantee stability

As the Chilcot inquiry continues, and the media wait with bated breath for Tony Blair to take the stand, you would be forgiven for thinking that the devastation of Iraq was in the past, finished, concluded, and the UK's role in the whole regrettable incident a distant memory, as the country gears up for its first true democratic elections in March.

But the recent upsurge of violence shows that this is very far from the truth. In October, 155 people were killed and 700 injured as a two bomb blasts ripped through Baghdad in the morning rush hour. Last week, 127 more were killed, and today it has been reported that at least five are dead.

In addition to these big explosions near government buildings, foreign correspondents report regular small-scale attacks on "softer" targets such as mosques, schools and marketplaces.

Violence in Iraq has always been complicated, stemming from sectarian conflict, criminal gangs and Muslim extremists. But this recent upsurge coincides with the passing of a law that will allow the general election to go ahead next year, and is widely accepted to be the work of al-Qaeda, fighting to destabilise the state.

It is hardly the most stable state, anyway. As I wrote in October:

. . . 1,891 civilians were killed in the first six months of 2009; 1.6 million people are internally displaced -- a lack of clean water, fuel or electricity preventing their return home. Unemployment is at 50 per cent, and just 19 per cent of people have proper sewerage.

It would be as well to remember the recent election in Afghanistan, the other country to which the west bravely brought democracy: elections rendered irrelevant by extreme violence from insurgents and fraud from the incumbent president.

Of course, the situation in Iraq is different in many ways. But the Chilcot inquiry has indicated that the main priority in invading was to topple Saddam, and has affirmed that the Americans held a deep-seated belief that they would be thanked: a senior civil servant spoke of "a touching belief [in Washington] that we shouldn't worry so much about the aftermath because it was all going to be sweetness and light".

As the death toll rises, it is worth noting that regime change comes at a cost.

 

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Samira Shackle is a freelance journalist, who tweets @samirashackle. She was formerly a staff writer for the New Statesman.

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How tribunal fees silenced low-paid workers: “it was more than I earned in a month”

The government was forced to scrap them after losing a Supreme Court case.

How much of a barrier were employment tribunal fees to low-paid workers? Ask Elaine Janes. “Bringing up six children, I didn’t have £20 spare. Every penny was spent on my children – £250 to me would have been a lot of money. My priorities would have been keeping a roof over my head.”

That fee – £250 – is what the government has been charging a woman who wants to challenge their employer, as Janes did, to pay them the same as men of a similar skills category. As for the £950 to pay for the actual hearing? “That’s probably more than I earned a month.”

Janes did go to a tribunal, but only because she was supported by Unison, her trade union. She has won her claim, although the final compensation is still being worked out. But it’s not just about the money. “It’s about justice, really,” she says. “I think everybody should be paid equally. I don’t see why a man who is doing the equivalent job to what I was doing should earn two to three times more than I was.” She believes that by setting a fee of £950, the government “wouldn’t have even begun to understand” how much it disempowered low-paid workers.

She has a point. The Taylor Review on working practices noted the sharp decline in tribunal cases after fees were introduced in 2013, and that the claimant could pay £1,200 upfront in fees, only to have their case dismissed on a technical point of their employment status. “We believe that this is unfair,” the report said. It added: "There can be no doubt that the introduction of fees has resulted in a significant reduction in the number of cases brought."

Now, the government has been forced to concede. On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled in favour of Unison’s argument that the government acted unlawfully in introducing the fees. The judges said fees were set so high, they had “a deterrent effect upon discrimination claims” and put off more genuine cases than the flimsy claims the government was trying to deter.

Shortly after the judgement, the Ministry of Justice said it would stop charging employment tribunal fees immediately and refund those who had paid. This bill could amount to £27m, according to Unison estimates. 

As for Janes, she hopes low-paid workers will feel more confident to challenge unfair work practices. “For people in the future it is good news,” she says. “It gives everybody the chance to make that claim.” 

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.