During my daily life in Baghdad 12 years ago, I became very adept at distinguishing the different sounds of weaponry and military equipment. Knowing when celebratory fire erupted, or when a Rocket Propelled Grenade exploded; and being able to judge the distance of those incessant sounds. This was the backdrop to my life there and although it became the norm I was always mindful of the risks. However, we do not expect the same thing to happen during peacetime in European cities and that is why the attack in Paris, whilst people were enjoying the start of the weekend, was so shocking.
Twelve years ago I was in Iraq, having been posted to Baghdad straight after the invasion. I was working for Prime Minister, Tony Blair as his Crisis Manager and dealt with both domestic and overseas situations; covering a vast range of communications issues.
It was still a hostile environment, and during my daily life I became very adept at distinguishing the different sounds of weaponry and military equipment. Knowing when celebratory fire erupted, or when a Rocket Propelled Grenade exploded; and being able to judge the distance of those incessant sounds. This was the backdrop to my life there and although it became the norm I was always mindful of the risks.
However, we do not expect the same thing to happen during peacetime in European cities and that is why the attack in Paris, whilst people were enjoying the start of the weekend, was so shocking.
But was it surprising? Having spent the last decade dealing with counter-terrorism issues at the Foreign Office I would say that these sort of attacks are inevitable. The Charlie Hebdo attack earlier this year was seen by some security analysts as an indicator of things to come. Though the scale and brutality of the Paris attacks were truly appalling. The open borders that the French enjoy allow easy transport of powerful automatic weapons; the type that were used in the attack. The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) quickly claimed responsibility, and President Hollande’s rapid response was to undertake further wave of bombing in Syria five days later.
The on-going Syria conflict has created a huge problem for the West. The Northern Syrian city of Raqqa is ISIL’s base and they have attracted a huge number of foreign fighters from around the globe to their vile terrorist group. Unlike Iraq during war, Syria is relatively accessible and wannabe jihadists have been able to travel both in and out of the region. At the beginning of the conflict Western security agencies quickly identified ‘returnees’ as a major problem and the danger of people who may have fought in Syria coming back to Western countries both radicalised and motivated enough to attack on their home soil.
Although France was the target, it is worth remembering that nearly 20 countries were affected by the massacre in Paris; reflecting the cosmopolitan nature of a thriving city. World leaders and people have globally mourned with France and expressed their outrage. President Hollande has intensified his bombing campaign and is looking for allies to help in the ‘war’ he has declared against ISIL.
The UK is yet to decide what action it will take, but the UN Security Council Resolution agreed last week called on member states to take ‘all necessary measures’ to challenge ISIL. Here in the UK, Prime Minister Cameron has made the case in Parliament for the UKto join Syrian airstrikes. It will eventually come down to a vote that he has to win or we hand a propaganda victory to ISIL. The date for the vote is yet to be set, but he will have a difficult time ahead. The Labour Party have still to confirm whether they will allow their members a free vote, though the leader of the Opposition publicly opposes military action.
Military action is one of the most important decisions any Government can take and in modern times is almost always controversial. What would this action actually look like? The UK is already involved in a bombing campaign in Iraq, targeting ISIL strongholds there. And we are supporting a US-led Coalition bombing ISIL targets in Syria. To simplify the thinking: the plan to increase and intensify the military campaign would prevent ISIL from gaining more territory, and whilst they are busy avoiding bombs they would be unable plan attacks.
While we focus on Syria, it is worth remembering that ISIL is only one of many terrorist groups around the world. Similar Islamist groups are active in other parts of the Middle East; Africa; South East Asia and beyond. These groups want to create fear and stoke up religious hatred in flourishing cities. Countries that rely on tourism are easy targets; but all countries are finding that they need to increase their security. Europe will always be high on the list for terrorists who want to challenge our freedoms and democracies.
In the wake of Paris several things have happened: Tunis has been attacked again; the US has issued a worldwide travel alert for Americans and Brussels was literally in lock down for four-day. Alongside this, there has been a rise in the number of hate crimes against Muslims. The whole of Europe is on high alert and populations around the world are scared. But does this mean that ISIL are achieving their goals?
The Arabic name for ISIL is Da’esh, which is a play on words and also regarded as an insult and which is why the group prefers to be called IS (Islamic State). They want disharmony between Muslims and other religions and peoples. They hope this will draw disaffected Muslims tired of being abused and harassed to join them.
ISIL like most terrorist groups have their weaknesses and security services around the globe will be looking tactically at what they can do to diminish them. It will take time, but they will be beaten. However, experience shows there will be another group to take their place. But each time they learn, so do we. We need to stay one step ahead and use all the legitimate means available to us to fight them.
We also need to look at the root causes and the reasons why people are attracted to such violent jihadism, particularly those born and raised in the West. We need to support those moderate Muslim voices and help them find a place for their views. Seek out those who want to adapt their religion to the culture of their adopted country. This is the time for greater harmony and understanding. The alternative is just too ghastly.
When Margaret Thatcher’s Government was attacked during the Party Conference in Brighton by the IRA in 1984 they issued a statement saying “Today we [IRA] were unlucky, but remember we only have to be lucky once. You will have to be lucky always.” That still holds today for terrorists, but so does Margaret Thatcher’s response:
“All attempts to defeat democracy by terrorism will fail”.
25 November 2015
Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive, TaxPayers' Alliance, provides an analysis of George Osborne's 2015 Autumn Statement.
Written by Jonathan Isaby, Chief Executive, TaxPayers’ Alliance
Today’s Statement from George Osborne represents a big missed opportunity to seriously reshape and redefine the role of the state. With a weak Opposition and time on their side at this early stage of the Parliament, the Government could have taken some radical and robust measures: abolishing unnecessary Whitehall departments, putting an end to ring-fencing certain budgets and abolishing the expensive and unjustifiable triple lock on pensions.
However, the Chancellor ducked the challenge with a series of announcements that will surely have been made with more than one eye on the politics of a future Conservative leadership race.
Of course, it’s good news that the OBR’s economic forecasts are more positive than expected, with higher than predicted tax receipts and low interest rates effectively giving him more room for manoeuvre.
And I welcome the fact that the Government remains committed to running a surplus by the end of the Parliament. But that room for manoeuvre appears to have been used up with the u-turn on tax credits and additional spending commitments in a number of other areas.
Meanwhile, fiddly interventions in the housing market and a new payroll tax mean that Whitehall’s tentacles continue to stretch far and wide.
Ministers are still spending £73.5 billion more than they have raised in revenue this year and as they continue to borrow in every year until 2019/20, the total national debt will continue to rise in cash terms – as will the debt interest payments to fund that borrowing.
So how can any observer seriously continue to talk about “austerity” and “savage cuts” when total public spending is continuing to rise year after year?
Jonathan Isaby is Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance and was previously a columnist for the Daily Telegraph newspaper and Co-Editor of ConservativeHome.com
Back in September when it was front page news across the UK that intelligent machines and artificial intelligence (AI) would take our jobs, most of us managed to find some hope in the fact our job was too unique for a computer to do it, but is that really so?
Back in September when it was front page news across the UK that intelligent machines and artificial intelligence (AI) would take our jobs, most of us managed to find some hope in the fact our job was too unique for a computer to do it, but is that really so? I went along to a talk from Professor Lord Giddens at the London School of Economics looking at sociology and the digital revolution, and according to him we should “drop the idea that computers are not creative.” Hang on a minute, does that mean they could take my job?
Professor Giddens also talked about computers that write poetry. This poetry, like the classical music, cannot be distinguished from human-created verse. It doesn’t stop there, stand-up comedians can now be robots. Computer generated jokes are getting more complex, simple examples include: What is the difference between leaves and a car? One you brush and rake, the other you rush and brake! Terrible, I know.
You may have a greater understanding of classical music than me and can tell the difference between David’s computer generated music and that of Vivaldi. You may also wince at the terrible AI generated jokes, but quantum computers are coming and therefore the possibilities are exponential to what we are seeing today. Only last week did the Guardian report that the University of New South demonstrated a quantum version of computer code being written onto a silicon microchip with the highest ever recorded degree of accuracy.
I question how long it will be before we will be visiting art galleries with works entirely computer generated. One may even exist now. What I want to know is how this will impact our engagement with the piece? We will know there is no real heart or soul to it, it is just an image generated by a computer. It is here where I am questioning how far technology will take us. Whilst technology has the skill, will it not rip out the heart of what makes something special, and therefore does it start to become devoid of meaning?
Whilst a computer may be able to write poetry, create classical music, paint a picture and tell a joke, for it to have integrity I believe this needs to come from the heart. I am all for a technological revolution and love watching and exploring as it unfolds, but there are some things we should keep a human heart in. If we fight for this it may just be where some of our jobs stay.
23 November 2015
This autumn marks eight years since the start of the global financial crisis which led to unforeseen reputational damage to the banking sector and wider financial services. Governments moved to address the problems and harsh lessons learned. Robust prevention measures, bullish markets and recovering economies since might help us forget about the crisis.
This autumn marks eight years since the start of the global financial crisis which led to unforeseen reputational damage to the banking sector and wider financial services.
Governments moved to address the problems and harsh lessons learned. Robust prevention measures, bullish markets and recovering economies since might help us forget about the crisis.
But, the industry, eight years on, still faces an enduring and significant deficit in consumer trust.
Edelman has led the charge of measuring trust for 15 years. Tracking trust in financial services since 2011, our Trust Barometer™ has shown only modest increases in global trust in the industry – and it remains one of the least trusted industries year-after-year.
In the 2015 Trust Barometer™, only 36% of UK consumers state that they have trust in financial services.
Low trust is a core reputational issue. For the UK financial services sector, it’s crippling to the bedrock on which it is built.
The discussion of trust in the financial services sector is not new, but has come under brighter lights most recently at the Bank of England’s Open Forum on 11 November, 2015. George Osborne shared public frustrations with an industry some think went relatively unpunished during and since the crisis; Bank of England Governor Mark Carney revealed that the public still expects significant changes to be made if trust in the sector is ever to be redeemed.
Added to that, in a report released last week, our client – the Financial Services Compensation Scheme (FSCS) – highlights the need for the industry to do more to address the “trust gap” which exists.
The FSCS has an important role in restoring trust in the financial services sector at large. It protects consumers when authorised financial services firms fail. Its mission is to provide a responsive, comprehensive and efficient compensation service that raises public confidence in the industry.
In Mind the Gap: restoring trust in UK financial services, the FSCS (along with Edelman’s 2015 Trust Barometer™ results) examined current consumer interactions and perceptions of the industry. Synthesising the research into a simple framework to describe the three conditions necessary for trust: Alignment, Benevolence and Competence, the report unravels the consumer trust gaps that continue to plague their relationships with financial services in the UK.
The FSCS co-authored the report with Nick Chater, Professor of Behavioural Science at the Warwick Business School and member of the Advisory Board to the Cabinet Office’s Behavioural Insight Team (popularly known as the ‘Nudge Unit’), which applied principles of behavioural economics to the independent research which surveyed over 2,500 UK consumers.
The partnership between the FSCS and the Warwick Business School was first inspired by another Edelman trust insight: the heightened level of trust the public places in academics. As the FSCS’ purpose is rooted in generating consumer confidence and reassurance, aligning with an academic body with such revered research credentials was essential to ensure a thorough understanding of consumer perceptions of UK financial services today. Only then could the FSCS develop solutions to address and help restore identified gaps in trust – in collaboration with the industry.
In this changing world, there is one perennial: trust is an invaluable commodity. What the FSCS’s report shows is that trust in financial services can only be restored and maintained through understanding the complex psychology of customer behaviours and perceptions. Customers also need the assurance from industry that its energies and decisions are serving the best interest of the customers. There is still work to be done.
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