Latest IS atrocity dominates headlines

Tribe members of slain Jordanian pilot, Lt. Muath al-Kaseasbeh receive mourners at the memorial tent set up for the slain pilot at their home village of Ai near Karak, Jordan Image copyright AP
Image caption The murder of a Jordanian pilot has provoked widespread outrage

What barbarity might Islamic State (IS) commit next? That's the question on everyone's lips.

What is equally worrying is the consistent ability of IS to mix a chilling brutality with a capacity for understanding the role of images in making propaganda.

The burning alive of the Jordanian pilot Lt Muath al-Kaseasbeh again highlights the group's ability to dominate headlines worldwide and leave governments and policymakers struggling to react.

The burning of prisoners is, according to some analysts, something IS reserves for Arab enemies in particular.

The group has reportedly killed Syrian captives in this way.

The murder of the Jordanian pilot achieved its double aim - the news made global headlines while at the same time the group succeeded in making the Arab world sit up and take notice.

IS poses a mortal danger to its neighbours in the Middle East, making no secret of its desire to destabilise neighbouring powers.

Jordan focus

It has Jordan in particular in its sights. Jordan is overwhelmingly a Sunni Muslim country, it is home to thousands of refugees and prone to instability, and the message of the jihadists attracts some sympathy in the poorer parts of the country.

Some of the fighters in IS are known to have come from Jordan, and Abu-Musah al-Zarqawi, the founder of al-Qaeda in Iraq, was a Jordanian national.

Jordan is also a target as it is one of America's closest allies in the region and plays an important symbolic role in the US-led military coalition against IS.

In his public comments so far, King Abdullah has insisted that commitment will not waver.

Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Abdul Fattah al-Sisi's assumed office after the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi

The United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia also joined the US-led military coalition against IS when attacks began last September, but in recent days reports have emerged that the UAE has suspended air strikes in a dispute over rescue missions.

The campaign against IS is leaving the US with some strange bedfellows in the Middle East.

In the fight against IS, at least, the West finds itself unintentionally allied to President Bashar al-Assad of Syria, a man who not so long ago was public enemy number one in Washington.

The Independent reported this week that while the eyes of the world were on IS, the killing in Syria continued.

In Egypt, in the heady days of the now long-dead Arab Spring, US President Barack Obama's administration was quick to withdraw support for then President Hosni Mubarak, but America now finds itself turning a blind eye to the growing repression of the regime of his successor, Gen Abdul al-Sisi.

Critics of Western policy in the region say the US and Europe are once again being short-sighted in hitching themselves to military strongmen and ruling families who are no friends to democracy, as the best way of dealing with the wider jihadist menace across the region.

Ukraine policy

As if IS was not a big enough headache, President Obama found himself at the centre of a foreign policy storm over the conflict in Ukraine and precisely what the West should do, or indeed what the West could realistically do.

Fighting has intensified in recent weeks in Ukraine's eastern Donetsk and Luhansk regions, leaving the September ceasefire in tatters.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Ashton Carter called for weapons to be sent to Ukraine

Russia denies accusations of arming the separatists and sending its regular troops across the border. And the Obama administration is facing growing questions about its foreign policy positions.

This piece in the Washington Post is just one example of demands in some quarters that the White House must be clearer about its international goals.

Some are demanding the Americans begin arming the Ukrainian army.

Adding his voice to those calls is Ashton Carter, President Obama's choice for US defence secretary.

He told his Senate confirmation hearing this week that he was "inclined" to send weapons to Ukraine.

Foreign Policy magazine also picked up on the policy dilemmas facing the White House over Ukraine.

President Obama faces the unenviable task of deciding on the correct course of action in what many believe is an increasingly complex proxy war in Ukraine.

Child exploitation

Back in the UK, Rotherham council was placed under the control of government commissioners after an independent inspection of its handling of child sexual exploitation concluded it was not fit for purpose and was more concerned about protecting its own reputation than its most vulnerable citizens.

An earlier inquiry found 1,400 children had been abused by gangs of men, mainly of Pakistani origin, from 1997 to 2013.

The latest report concluded there had been a culture of "complete denial" over child sexual exploitation. The council resigned en-masse.

The Times has taken the lead in the story from the very beginning and laid bare the scale of the dereliction of duty.

The Telegraph reported that "misplaced political correctness" lay at the heart of the scandal.

Newspapers have been through every failing highlighted by the report - from the leadership of the council to the culture of cover-ups and the silencing of whistleblowers.

The Times reporter Andrew Norfolk , who has pursued the story doggedly from the start, argues that justice won't be done until more abusers stand trial.

He points out that there has been only one prosecution so far.

He reports South Yorkshire Police announced in 2014 that it was launching a major criminal inquiry into past child-sex offences, but as yet no charges have resulted.

Separately, the National Crime Agency is conducting its own investigation into past cases.

In its leader column, the Times worries that "as Rotherham blinks in the harsh light of national scrutiny, grooming gangs continue to operate with impunity elsewhere".

Labour and business

The spat between Labour and business has offered an insight into some of the dividing lines in the 100-day unofficial election campaign.

Party leader Ed Miliband decided the best defence was attack after the chief executive of Boots, Stefano Pessina, said a Labour victory would be "a catastrophe" for the UK.

A bit rich, coming from someone living in Monaco, who had moved Alliance Boots to low-tax Switzerland, was the gist of Mr Miliband's riposte.

Lost in the headlines to some extent is the fact that - behind the scenes - Labour, conscious of the importance of the business lobby, has been conducting an extensive wooing of big business.

Image caption Ed Balls forgot the name of a key supporter

Lord Wood, a close adviser to Mr Miliband, had hosted a lunch this week for City institutions, reported the Financial Times.

But some commentators noted that it was still a far cry from the Tony Blair era of keeping big business close.

One of Mr Blair's early appointments was to bring in Sir David Simon, chairman of BP, as Minister for Trade.

And one of Mr Blair's favourite ministers, Peter (now Lord) Mandelson, was famously "relaxed" about people getting filthy rich.

Lord Digby Jones, former head of the CBI, served as a trade minister in Gordon Brown's government and Lord Myners, a businessman, served as City minister.

According to the Guardian, the row threw a spotlight on Labour's current relationship with big business, as well as saying much about tensions within Labour itself.

It won't have helped Labour jitters that the Financial Times reported that the Conservatives were having no such trouble attracting business support.

Mr Miliband's supporters argue that the world has moved on from the Blair years and that the centre-ground of politics has shifted their way since the financial crisis.

Balls faux-pas

All that may or may not be true, but perhaps the last word should go to Ed Balls.

He got into a terrible mess in a live BBC Newsnight interview when he couldn't remember the name of a Labour business supporter he had met.

"Bill Somebody" will pass into the political lexicon.

The Spectator had fun with the story, saying that the real problem was not that Mr Balls couldn't remember the name but that he could think of no other big business supporter for Labour.

It is a disturbing thought that, in an age when many people say they can't tell politicians apart and think they're all the same, our political leaders can't tell one business leader from another.

"It's an age thing," tweeted Mr Balls afterwards.

What is clear though is that financial competence is an issue for voters, and this week's public confrontation just served to highlight that.

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