The President and the novice

WILL AN uncomfortable-looking photograph with an indecisive president improve Ed Miliband’s standing with voters? The Labour leader hopes so. It is why his team has staked so much on this week’s perfunctory meeting with Barack Obama in an attempt to prove his credentials as a statesman.

WILL AN uncomfortable-looking photograph with an indecisive president improve Ed Miliband’s standing with voters? The Labour leader hopes so. It is why his team has staked so much on this week’s perfunctory meeting with Barack Obama in an attempt to prove his credentials as a statesman.

Yet the electorate, and Mr Miliband’s increasingly restless members and councillors, will not be so charitable. They will question why he felt the need to travel to Washington for a photo opportunity when he should have been in Parliament to provide Labour’s response to the destruction of Flight MH17 over Ukraine – a disaster that has put the future of the West’s diplomatic and trade relations with Russia on the line.

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And they will wonder whether this was a wise moment to seek out President Obama, one of the most disappointing leaders of America in living memory, when he is understandably pre-occupied by the implications of Russia’s aggression and also the escalating bloodshed in the Middle East.

In many respects, the President’s graciousness stems from the warmth of his relationship with his former election guru David Axelrod, now an aide to Mr Miliband, rather than any particular desire to meet the Leader of the Opposition.

It is little wonder, therefore, that the Doncaster North MP is now regarded as a political “hindrance”, rather than asset, by Labour councillors concerned at the lack of policy clarity. They are right to be alarmed. Four years after beating his brother David to the leadership, Mr Miliband is still struggling to broaden his appeal in this country – never mind on the world stage – and the lasting impression of his meeting with President Obama is an unflattering picture of a political novice desperately seeking attention at the most inopportune of times.

Barbaric practice

End this cruel abuse of women

JUST AS some will question Ed Miliband’s stateside visit, others will wonder why the Prime Minister is hosting a summit on female genital mutilation at a time of such global tumult. Yet David Cameron’s pledge to end this barbaric practice within a generation should be applauded for its ambition.

The alteration of a woman’s genitalia for non-medical purposes, in the most extreme cases preventing sexual intercourse, has no place in the modern world – and William Hague was right to champion this issue when he was Foreign Secretary.

And though support for it is slowly falling, Unicef estimates that more than 130 million girls and women alive today have been subjected to such abuse as part of cultural ritual.

Nor is this something that is merely practised outside of the West. Hospitals in Leeds, for instance, have referred nearly 350 women to a specialist FGM clinic since 2011. Yet, despite it being illegal in this country, there has not been a single conviction to date – a state of affairs that must change.

In many places where FGM is practised, there is no law against it, or if there is, it’s not implemented. And politicians have been afraid to push too far. There was a UN resolution in 2012 to ban FGM worldwide and now is the time for the international community to make this happen. The difficulty, however, is that this is not just about legislation.

If abuse of this kind is to be banished then it is first necessary to create a cultural sea change in countries where eight-year-olds are routinely – and forcibly – married to men in their 30s. And that could take far longer than a generation to achieve.

A different beast

New challenge for farm agency

HOW times change. From public sector pariah, the much maligned Rural Payments Agency is now a totally different beast when it comes to the efficient handling of farm subsidy payments. It would be remiss not to acknowledge the quiet progress which has been achieved in recent years.

That said, complacency is not an option. As chief executive Mark Grimshaw intimates, upcoming changes to the Common Agricultural Policy system of payments is set to provide the RPA with one of its greatest challenges to date as it attempts to avoid the mistakes of the past.

Farmers are right to be fearful. Subsidies are crucial to their existence, and successive governments do not have a good track record when it comes to the overhaul IT systems. That said, they should draw some confidence from the fact that the Rural Payments Agency is preparing for these changes from a position of strength and its staff recognise the need to treat farmers with respect.