Eating my words and reflecting

So I was wrong. Perhaps naïvely, I did not think the Tories would win with a majority this election, and I was almost right. I stand by what I said the other week however, if the election was the day after my post there is no chance the Tories would win a majority, and the outcome of the election would probably be more favourable for all.

The Tories in reflection, definitely had the stronger campaign (although I am not saying Labour’s was not also effective). However to me, having watched all the debates, all the Question Times, I would say that the Tories won largely on the backs of the economy. It is fair to say that Labour did not tackle the fallacy that the economy crashed because of them and this from the get-go gave the Tories the upper hand, even if it is not necessarily wholly true. Similarly, it was the perhaps predictable pander to people’s fears of a British government held at ransom by a radical bunch of left wing socialists from across the border. This was clearly a successful strategy, and something neither the SNP nor Labour effectively combatted. As I write this I am listening to the rolling coverage of the election on the BBC, and, I do not know his name, but a man interestingly noted that every vote for the SNP reduced the likelihood of a Labour win, partly because they would be taking Labour seats, but also it shattered those in England and Wale’s confidence in a post-election Labour government, one which would inevitably have to be propped up by, not a Scottish party, but a nationalist party – it is the nationalist part which fielded the danger. This is partly where I am torn with my support for the SNP – I am wholly in support of more Scottish representation in parliament, and and really taken by Nicola Sturgeon, but it was poor planning in terms of her party tactics, even if I did not realise this myself when the election campaign was happening. Because of this, both Labour and the SNP need to rethink how they will approach these issues in the future, because after all, Sturgeon and the SNP ultimately failed her electorate – elected on the back of a promise to ‘oust’ David Cameron, a promise she has not been able to keep.

That aside, I am still struggling to fathom how the Tories managed to pull this win off to such a great extent. Everyone was in a state of disbelief at those exit polls. My flatmate ran in and told me and I could feel my face drop. Almost every person I spoke to was either voting Labour or Lib Dem, certainly not the Conservatives. When I consider this, I feel maybe it’s the fact I know mostly young people, and their associated naïvety. At the start of my first year in university my economics lecturer said everyone comes into economics left wing and optimistic and leaves right wing and as a pessimist. I find myself wondering if this is true? Is this what has just happened to every university graduate ever? I am regularly told that you grow up and begin to understand the real world when you have to live in it and pay your own bills for a few years, and I guess I can see why.

That being said, I think it is fair to say the the Tories have most of their support from people over say 35, and that is perhaps why this election is especially devastating. As if young people’s voices weren’t being heard enough before – given the governments complacency after they raised tuition fees and all the subsequent marches, rallies, occupations and social unrest. No there is effectively no one for us. Labour’s promises were no way near perfect, but a reduction of tuition fees by a third was obviously never not going to be welcomed – it would have been a start. And now what? The Tories want to prevent people under the age of 25 claiming multiple types of benefits, they want to get more people into apprenticeships (despite the fact from my experience I have found no one actually wants one), and they are apparently ‘open’ to increasing tuition fees even more.

I have a lot of friends who have been heavily involved in the University of London occupation, campaigning for a lot of noble causes. Perhaps shamefully, I regret not getting involved – it was perhaps a combination of laziness on my heart, and my own complacency regarding the issues I so often say I care about. This month the LSE occupation, one of, if not the longest ones running at a London university, was forcefully brought to an end with an injunction letter serviced to them after controversial (yet ultimately right, in my opinion), Russell Brand came to answer a few questions after the occupation screened his new film, the Emperor’s New Clothes (which is well worth a watch). Whether you like Russell Brand as a political persona or not, his film is undeniably enlightening, and it should have been released much sooner, to a much wider audience (although the occupation was packed with people wanting to watch it). It revealed in a concise manner a lot of what gets mixed up in the barrage of different media outlets released each day; effectively how unfair the past 5 years of a mostly Tory government has been on ordinary people, people the government is supposed to be working for. Bias and propaganda aside, when you appreciate the numbers, if does leave you worried about the prospect of what a Conservative-majority government will do to the UK and to its societal pillars, namely the NHS, education and governmental welfare.

The importance of the occupation aside, the right-wing media’s barrage of attacks on Russell Brand, perhaps not unfairly, a self-branded spokesperson for the young (despite his not-that-young age. How can all of these attacks, perhaps on what young people actually consider important – fairness, equality, equal opportunities amongst others – inspire any sort of confidence? With young voters so often overlooked and ignored, having their voices manifested behind Brand’s media vehicle was perhaps their best chance of getting their voices heard, and that’s why I supported Miliband’s decision to meet with Brand in an interview that although did not really reveal much, it at least showed he was willing to engage. Young people (according to conversations I have had as well as my Facebook feed) are everywhere pretty devastated that their votes amounted to virtually nothing in the grand scheme of things.

I think lots of people thought change was coming, and this sudden loss in moment, perhaps a temporary blip in the left or just progressive liberals success over the past 5 years, is certainly disheartening, but they are not down and out. Even before the day of the election there were plans to occupy Downing Street just in case Cameron tried to get into No. 10 when he technically had not won the election. Similarly today, I see a couple of people attending this Facebook event – the Radical Left’s General Assembly, and one of my friends total disbelief culminated in saying ‘We’re fucked, mums going on strike and I’m gonna throw some bricks [sic]’. I think this is the beauty of the young (and old), mobilised left – they never give up, and this is something which should be bolstered given the unexpected result of Thursday’s election. I know that this is something that will increase in momentum over the next five years, and the feeling is hopefully the Tories will mess things up so much that there is no chance of them winning a third term (a term without Cameron).

Overall, I am sad and certainly eating my words, the Tories won (though not necessarily fair and square). I did not expect this result in the slightest, and was actually optimistic that Labour could actually win, but I remain hopeful. I’m optimistic that something better will eventually, however long it takes, come from this election. For all I know, the Tories might do a great job and in 5 years society could be great (a long shot, I know). That being said, I will now try harder than ever to stick to my promise of escaping the UK to Australia for a year, and today has just made that dream all the more important.

(I intended to post on Wednesday, before the election, with some final thoughts, but I could not finish my post in time, therefore I scrapped that and wrote this one instead).

Why the Conservatives won’t win a majority at the General Election

Do the Tories have any policies?

This is a question I have found myself asking on a regular basis every time I see something related to the General Election (GE) in the news or on the internet. It is blindingly obvious that the Tories main tactic this campaign it attack the Labour party with ruthlessness and vigour. I do not dispute that Ed Miliband may or may not be the best candidate for Prime Minister but I would much rather have him than Cameron and the Conservatives.

The pettiness of the Conservative’s GE campaign is baffling, but understandable. The Tories waffle on constantly about their success with the economy, but what else? This struck me on Thursday in particular when watching the regional news. On it there was an interview (and a corresponding news article can be found here) with Chancellor George (Gideon) Osborne, within which he said it was vote for the Tories for a stable and “growing” economy, or vote for Labour, with a poor track record, which would also lead to the SNP storming Westminster (not in aforementioned article).

I’m sorry Mr Osborne but is Scotland no longer part of the United Kingdom? I did not realise Scottish people were not allowed their own representation in the UK’s parliament.

These attacks get weaker and weaker each day with the actual news being the overwhelming support the SNP and Nicola Sturgeon have received in wake of the Leaders’ Debates earlier in April. To me, the Tories constant rebuking of Labour and the SNP only demonstrate the deep fear penetrating Westminster today. The likelihood of a Labour-SNP (and Green?) coalition is fast becoming a realistic prospect. A recent Guardian article caught my attention, fielding the question as to what would happen if the SNP stood candidates outside of Scotland. It revealed how a Survation poll put SNP’s share of parliamentary seats across the UK at 9%, 1% above the Liberal Democrats. This, combined with the Liberal Democrats’ 8% and Greens feeble 4% place left wingers with a sizeable 21% share of the vote, not far off the Tories’ 30. This almost mirrors a similar YouGov poll, putting the SNP at 11% of the vote. However, as this is all hypothetical, the only power SNP will likely have is influencing which party holds power after May 7th.

Because of this the only option is for continued attacks on Labour in the press and by politicians themselves. The Tories, unsurprisingly, are being championed along by the Daily Mail and the Telegraph. In fact, one news story about how ‘70% of the FTSE Top 100‘ say Miliband and Labour would be a ‘catastrophe’ for the economy has been on the front page of the Mail for 5 days – it’s not really breaking news anymore, yet there it stays. Within said article, it is written how Labour has ‘vowed to force companies to offer staff a full time contract if they have been working regular hours for three months’. How is this a bad thing for the country? The same article notes that there are 1.8 million people living on zero-hour contracts. All this reads to me is that big businesses want to keep people down and poor, so they are easy to use to their advantage.

Other self-defeating digs at Labour include Friday’s “scandal”, how – shock horror – Ed Miliband has slept with more than one woman. This point seems to negate common Miliband-slander: that he is a geek, furthering the Tories campaign ineptitude. Ed’s love-life was important enough to make the front page of the Mail in print (perhaps what most people will encounter in their day), but obviously not important enough to make the top of its website. I do not see how these types of posts,about the people involved do not constitute an invasion of their personal privacy, considering they include a lot of intimate detail as well as multiple pictures. These sorts of attacks perhaps demonstrates the weakness in Tory campaigning in another way – because the Mail has nothing to champion or defend on behalf of the Conservatives it has to dig around to find something to report on just to try and keep the Tories on top.

Thursday’s Question Time raised some interesting points about the recent furore about non-domiciled (non-doms) people, a status rich businesspeople can purchase meaning they pay no tax to the UK on incomes made abroad. Labour want to abolish them, meaning the question around the table was how much the abolishment of non-doms would cost the country. Expectedly, many different numbers were thrown around. In my opinion, the likelihood of thousands of Brits registered as non-doms upping sticks and leaving the country is slim. Caroline Lucas righteously noted that if these people who choose to be taxed unfairly at the cost of everyone else want to leave, so be it, they are morally unjust. The Daily Telegraph even noted that the Conservatives would rather target Ed Balls and avoid the issue, something the broadsheet notes most find an ‘archaic injustice’. The same article noted how the public love an underdog, and so in effect, the Tories are shooting themselves in the foot, because this is exactly what Miliband has become. By showing their support for the non-dom status, the Tories only demonstrate that they are a party for the rich, supporting antiquated policies benefitting only themselves. Almost daily the Conservatives push this idea onto the public, exacerbating the effect the daily attacks on Miliband have. David Cameron has high approval ratings with the public, and it will be interesting to see how this changes as the election campaigns push on.

I am not endorsing the Labour party or saying that they will win the election, in fact I am still on the fence as to which way to vote. Nevertheless, what I am sure of is that I will not vote for a party which engages in dirty, smear-campaigning in order to swing the vote, and I’m equally sure many others will not either. The Conservative party has a lot to learn: if you want people to engage in politics and lend their support, prove to them that after 5 years in power you are competent in politics and have policies which are sensible and work towards the greater good rather than dodge issues and resort to scathing and immature personal attacks on someone who is obviously a formidable opponent. It is for this reason, the fact that the Tories have insofar presented nothing solid or appealing to the public, that I feel they will not win a majority at the election on May 7th, and as a disclaimer I suppose I should say that if they do I will eat my hat and move to Australia, never to return.

This article can also be found on my university course’s blog: International Relations Today.

Who really won? My view on the Leaders’ Debates

I know I am not the only one that knows who outrightly won yesterday’s 7-way leaders’ debate.

Nicola Sturgeon was, in my opinion, phenomenal in the face of 4 outspoken men (3 of which will have had significant practice in this sort of area). The debate has really just left me sad that Sturgeon is confined to Scotland. If she was head of Labour, they would win the contested General Election, no doubts about it.

The debates discussed 4 of the most ‘important’ issues that circulate the election May: the NHS, the economy, immigration and young people – all fair enough areas in their own right. In each, I feel it is fair to say that Sturgeon came out on top. I appreciate I am vehemently left wing, but to me she just seemed to be talking sense.

People recoil from the SNP because of the fact it is Scotland – with the image of a British parliament controlled by those without the entire nation’s best interests at heart, and as my dad pointed out to me as we watched last night, this is fair enough; why should Scottish (and Welsh, is Wood gets her devolved Welsh parliament) has influence in purely English politics, when the English do not have a say in theirs. My answer is that if the SNP are going to stick by their more socialist policies, which would appear to benefits the wider majority of the population, rather than the cocktail of centre-centre right dogmas presented by the 3 main parties at the heart of Westminster, then I would be happy for them to run our country.

I think it was obvious that Miliband was desperate to show that he was not itching to collaborate with the SNP in a coalition in the case of a hung parliament after May 7th, but to me this seems like the best option – a left-wing moderating force assuring Ed keeps to his policies, perhaps shifting Labour back to the side where it has traditionally drawn support.

That being said, Natalie Bennett presented what I felt were sensible policies and recommendations which indeed offered an alternative to the 3 main parties. I think the pressure was unfairly on the Greens, to justify their surge in support and do aforementioned supporters proud. A lot of people on my Facebook feed took it upon themselves to “sum up” the leaders’ debate for those who may or may not have been watching, and lumped as per usual ‘climate change’ on the Greens. I think this was grossly unfair. I missed the first quarter, but watched the rest and as I recall, Bennett mentioned climate change maybe twice. Climate change is an incredibly important issue, far more important than immigration given that climate change would only exacerbate it for the worse, yet of course, it cannot be discussed by the leaders who should be promising they will tackle it.

That aside, and now moving on to discuss the NHS, my dad raised a couple of issues with me: my dad seems to be convinced that all of our doctors and medical staff are leaving the country, leaving me smiling in disbelief. My mum, a long-standing civil servant at the heart of the NHS in the South-West agreed with me that this simply wasn’t true. I asked my dad to show the statistics that all of our doctors were going abroad, leaving us with many foreigners in the NHS (which I’m not sure is a problem, given that he always harps on that those who get jobs should be the most qualified – i.e. it’s a non-issue whether a British job goes to a British person). He feebly searched around on the internet and gave me the number of 5000, to which my mum and I laughed. To me, this highlighted how little the public are actually informed. Farage and others commented on how much money immigrants (with HIV) were taking out of the NHS amongst other things, and the number £100million was chucked around, but as my mum pointed out this is just a ‘drop in the ocean’ to the NHS budget. The problem here is that people just do not know, the NHS and the government are not transparent. £100million sounds like an awfully big number, but in the grand scheme of things it isn’t and this is where we need to see change.

In my living room last night points were raised about this lack of public awareness, but how can we expect the public to get a good understanding of British domestic politics when so much of today’s most widely read media is owned by infamous Rupert Murdoch?

Sturgeon urged the electorate to vote for a Green or a progressive Labour candidate, which just fields the question as to why there isn’t a left-leaning English devolutionist party. Many English people want English Votes for English Laws, yet this is not presented to them. My dad’s point is valid – why should the Scots get to determine the outcome of the election based on whether Labour enters a coalition with them? To me, this suggests we need a devolutionist left wing party that can united with the left-leaning Wood and Sturgeon is Wales and Scotland on issues which are truly national, but leave more regional issues to the individual countries themselves. The main problem here is Nick Clegg’s apparent fear of a rainbow coalition of parties – a sort of “too many cooks spoil the broth” approach, but I just think of the times when it was the Whigs and the Tories – prior to the establishment of the Labour party as a significant political force in the 1920s and 30s, a multi-party Westminster was unthinkable.

In recent times, the electorate has become disillusioned with the status quo in Westminster, and have lost hope that that is the only option, and with the existence of First Past the Post and Safe Seats this is a fair analysis. For that reason, it seems to me the best hope the public have of a progressive government that works for them is a new approach to government, that is can be a coalition of many different voices working together to achieve outcomes that work for them, and not for businesses or the parties themselves. My dad, ever insightful, suggested that the problem with the main parties is that they work in government to benefit the parties themselves, rather than the people who elected them, and this is the fatal flaw in British democracy today: until we have a government that works for the greater good then politics will continue to decline leaving the public disillusioned, frustrated and powerless, a situation I desperately hope we never have to face.

Mourning Democracy – the loss of Britain’s most important value

Do we live in a democracy? This is a question I regularly ask myself. Politics is a fundamental part of international relations, and while we tend to focus on the global at university, to me it is wholly necessary to understand processes at home before applying same said processes to the international.

This piece will focus less on the “power” of the press, but the new inevitably comes into it. Democracy, or ‘rule by the people‘, is perhaps the corner stone of our society, one of the key components of David Cameron’s “British values“, and an ideologies held in high esteem by the British public but to me, a lowly commentator, it seems many do not really know what democracy means.

There is, in my a opinion, a compelling argument to suggest we do not live in a democracy, but rather a society masquerading as a democracy. How can we live in a democracy when the majority of the population live within parliamentary safe seats? Using myself as an example, I come from Wiltshire, where my constituency is made up of predominantly white, middle class and older voters. Despite my rigorous campaigning in opposition, it seems my North Wiltshire constituency will be terminally held by the Conservatives, when I know for a fact that many people (mostly young) would never vote conservative.

It seems ridiculous to me that political parties can seed candidates into safe seats i.e. have MPs run in constituencies when their respective parties are almost guaranteed a win. Obviously there are cases where spanners have been thrown into the works, but on the whole this is the case. Boris Johnson’s upcoming run for MP in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, a north-London Tory safe seat is a prime example of this. How can this be considered democracy? With some research, safe seats stem from the First Past the Post system here in the UK where the candidate with the most votes gets the seat. But what if there are multiple candidates and the winner receives only, say, 30% of the votes? 70% of the people are not being represented by the winning candidate. How can we say this is democracy?

This week it was reported how Tory and Labour MPs Malcolm Rifkind (himself representing in a “rock-solid Tory safe seat“) and Jack Straw were found to be accepting payments from corporations to represent their business interests in parliament. It would be foolish to think that these are the only two MPs to be doing this. I agree that MPs should be able to supplement their incomes outside of parliament, but I agree with Ed Miliband that it would be preferable for MPs to devote themselves wholeheartedly to parliament through increasing the pay of politicians. Although it may seem like they do not do much, MPs obviously have a hard and important job, and it would be a lie to say that my passionately Labour history teacher from Secondary School has not influenced me in my opinions on this controversial issues. To him, it made sense for MPs to be paid, say, a blanket amount of £300,000 and no more. This would include general pay and would cover their expenses. I hope I am not alone in thinking this would be better in general. It is not democratic for corporations to be able to by influence in the government, when trans-national corporations already command a lot of the power in government.

Many people do not vote and because of the above reasons it is not hard to understand why. Democracy in the UK is broken. I agree with David Cameron, democracy is incredibly important and is something that should be cherished, preserved and certainly not taken for granted, but what we have is not democracy. I am not attempting to suggest that I have the answers, but to me it seems the most obvious reform would be either proportional representation, where a party that wins 30% of votes, gets 30% of the seats, or alternatively a gradual shift to direct democracy, where everyone can vote directly on policies, rather than for a person to represent them.

Last year, in the wake of the bedroom tax issue, I exchanged a series of letters with my local MPs scolding him for voting for the bedroom tax, in contrast to what I felt would be a better representation of his constituencies. He gave me no discernible or credible reason for his opinions on the bedroom tax, suggesting to me he was voting purely in his own interests. Again, I must reiterate that this is not democracy. This has been seen time and time again – any scandal or issue it seems is dealt with through the personal opinions of MPs rather than that of the people they should be representing (gay marriage comes to mind).

Direct democracy avoids all of this. I’m not saying that every policy should be voted on by everyone – that is impractical and would fast become annoying, but for some issues, such as say tax, action on climate change or indeed gay marriage, everyone should be entitled to vote as these are issues that directly affect everyone. It is already utilised in Switzerland to some affect. There are obviously disadvantages, as we have learnt in IR Theory, the majority often do not know what is best for them and this would not be helped by the likes of the tabloids such as the Sun and yes, the Daily Mail which spout nonsense on a daily basis yet have such a devoted following. That being said, it can be argued that a new group of voters are emerging – voters that are more tolerant and liberal and better educated, so this in fact may become less of an issue. Similarly, perhaps this could be guaranteed by a constitution as well as the fact we would still have elected MPs for the majority of issues.

As I said above I do not know all the answers, but I do know that we are not living in what we think we are, rather, hiding behind a masquerade of democracy in which MPs are bought by corporations and thousands of votes are wasted because of a fundamentally flawed electoral system. Change is coming, I am certain. Today the Green Party released its manifesto (slightly marred by some embarrassing radio interviews) offering an alternative to a three-party Westminster and the same can be said for opposite side in the form of UKIP. This is a welcome change and something that I sincerely hope gains more momentum in the future. Democracy may be waning, but it is not lost, and I know that myself and others will continue to campaign for its revival into the future.

Je Suis Charlie? Nigeria? I see no difference

Given the past week’s events I feel I should offer my 2 cents. As most will know, radicalised Islamists opened fire on the offices of Charlie Hebdo in Paris, a French ‘satirical’ magazine or news journal, killing 7 journalists and cartoonists mainly over the depiction of the Islamic prophet Muhammed in their publication.

What less people will know (although thankfully that number is rising) further across the globe militant Islamic group Boko Haram razed a village to the ground killing approximately 2000 men, women and children.

I am in no way condoning what the terrorists in Paris did, but in my opinion it was certainly wrong for Charlie Hebdo to publish a blatantly antagonising cartoon depicting Muhammed in direct contradiction to the rules of Islam. I understand it is satire and that it is important to call out groups as necessary, but if you consider the definition of satire I don’t think it can be applied to said cartoon:

The use of humour, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticise people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues

That being said, the attacks do raise important questions about free speech laws across the country, which number alarming few (perhaps not in law but in practice). I enjoyed reading an LSE student’s tweets naming and shaming the political leaders on their free speech abuses which can be read here, highlighting the hypocrisy this attack has raised.

I had an interesting discussion in my seminar today for a module I have started this term called ‘Contemporary Security Issues’ where my friend noted how it is difficult to get people to care and protest without a spark or a cause – in this case the cause was the murders. But it also made me question, was it really the murders that were the cause?

Across the internet, the outrage about the murders on the principles of free speech quickly evolved into a petty argument about Islam being contrary to ‘European’ (or more appropriately, Western) values. To me, this just shows how these murders acted as a catalyst for what had been not-so-quietly bubbling under for the past new years. It is no secret that the public here in the UK as well as across Europe have conflicting, often negative opinions on Islam. I found this article by the Economist particularly enlightening, showing perceptions of Islam across Europe and it really confirmed what I believe – that most people, wrongly, have negative perception of Islam.

The attacks in Paris provided a good platform for talks about “Islamification” outside of the religion’s heartland in the Middle East, probably because if I recall correctly, it has been the first major terrorist attack in the name of Islam for a good many years. Yet, I am not sure it really reached a conclusion in either direction.

Everyone (now including me) has had their say on the issue, but I think the Guardian’s coverage has been the most balanced so far. The Guardian posted a ‘panel verdict’ covering 6 different journalist’s/prominent people’s perspectives which ranged from anger to support in the face of Charlie Hebdo’s newest cover, again depicting Muhammed.

Personally, I feel it was arrogant and stupid to print again what caused the attack in the first place. I agree that it would be wrong to back down in the face of terror, but to me I do not see the point in antagonising for no good reason? All Muslim’s will be upset over the picture, yet by printing that cartoon, it is almost silencing them. The power of the white voice in Europe is far greater than that of the Muslim minority and given the attack, it seems that if any Muslim takes a stand and disagrees with the cartoon, they will just be attacked and branded a terrorist sympathiser.

I have many Muslim friends and certainly know that this is not the case.

ALthough it may seem like a non-sequitur, please stay with me. Above, I mentioned the attacks on a village in Nigeria by infamous militant/guerilla group Boko Haram, the same people who abducted 200 school girls (who are still missing) last year. Everything Boko Haram seem to do is terrifying and disgusting – but my question is why it didn’t get more coverage than it did? I guess it boils down to a few main reasons:

  1. I mentioned above how the Charlie Hebdo massacre was one of the first terrorist attacks in a big public city in Europe for a while. This makes it news-worthy, but simultaneously so because of the fear it instills in us; Cameron this week said he wants to ban private messaging apps like Whatsapp, he gave more power and £100m to secret services like GCHQ and also put special security forces on standby in case of ‘repercussions’ in London.
  2. The Paris shootings being so close to home probably makes them more important. In fact, ti appears that most UK press works in the following format: UK -> Europe -> Rest of World.
  3. People just don’t care. Consider that kidnappings of the 200 schoolgirls, since forced into sham marriages with Boko Haram members, used as sex slaves and made to convert, what happened to them? Because it is Africa, often considered a “lost” cause/continent, nothing seems to get done. Africa is too risky to go into, and problems have grown to big. Perhaps then, the attacks in Nigeria are not being covered because there are no journalists there to report on them.

I recently read about and saw a painting called the Rape of Africa and it really affected me because you just know it is all true. Africa is a lost continent, compared to the rest of the world the majority of it is so ignored and underdeveloped, and so it is no wonder why countries in Africa have apparently seen a huge rise in militant (admittedly often Islamic) groups over recent years.

If anything, the existence of groups like Boko Haram in the corners of the world most ignored by the “ever-powerful” West are the most dangerous. Yes, the attacks in Paris were shocking, unexpected and cruel but in reality, do a couple of radicalised young adults (a tiny, almost microscopic proportion) really represent a threat to Western society as has since been harped on? No. It is these groups in less economically developed countries that pose the real threat to Western values, because they are the ones who have the vendetta about them. Western interference in Africa is seen as just that – countries and leaders wanting to ‘make their mark’ or ‘a change’ when in reality they are just messing up complicated political systems which need to develop on their own. However, I must also say that the opposite can be thought of – perhaps groups like Boko Haram exist because of the lack of Western intervention. Groups looking to terrorise and bring down governments only do so through extreme disenchantment with the establishment in that country, disenchantment that could have been avoided if the West had interfered to guarantee a democracy which has given life to so many in Europe.

Either way, to me the attacks in Nigeria and in Paris are important, for ways that are different yet cross the same boundaries. I am not one to quantify the importance of such events by the number of deaths but nevertheless, I feel worse for those in places like Nigeria who not only have to deal with the prospect of being uprooted and murdered at any moment by their own country-folk but also all of the associated traumas that come with them.

In any case, all we can take from these tragedies is a positive attitude forward – something good will surely come from the forum opened by radicalised Islamic attacks in Paris, and hopefully, now awareness of the situation is growing, help can be found for the floundering government in Nigeria (which has done barely anything, likely due to the governmental elections in a few weeks).



The Fox Hunt: Class Warfare for the Modern Day?

Living in London I see foxes on virtually a daily basis. They are my favourite animal, so this post will be openly, blatantly and unashamedly bias, but I do not find my arguments unreasonable. There are many reasons to oppose foxhunting (thus supporting the continuation of its ban); it is cruel, unnecessary, arguably disturbing given that people actually enjoy brutally killing an animal that is outnumbered and condemned to death for existing, but often, the deeper, perhaps even more sinister issue raised when it comes to the ban on foxhunting – is it just another playing field for class warfare, something that is noticeably growing in today’s society.

“I am not suggesting that this idea is new. Admittedly I cannot remember what the political sphere looked like in 2004 (when the ban was introduced) and I certainly did not read the newspapers, but today thanks to my ever-brilliant dad, gained a new perspective myself on this “sport”. Digging around on the Guardian, I read this article. Within it, the author, Melissa Kite, argues the following:

Hunting is a niche sport in Britain. But I would argue that opposing hunting is an even more rarefied pursuit. That is because the hatred that consumes the antis has nothing to do with animal cruelty […] The reason the antis are so unhappy that we are still out there, revelling in the great outdoors, has less to do with the welfare of foxes than with the fact that they still have to look at “toffs” in red coats.”

This I completely disagree with. Speaking to my family, their support of the ban has little, if anything, to do with a sort of jealousy emerging from the (often true) stereotype of people who partake in foxhunts – often rich and shop in Waitrose in my experience – but rather it stems from their opposition to animal cruelty, and I speculate this is the same with much of our larger society.

That being said, ti is easy to see why people do think of hunting as a ‘class warfare issue’. Consider  cockfighting or dog fighting, these were outlawed years and years ago (both banned in 1835 respectively) . These sports were arguably working class sports banned by the landed gentry who worked in Parliament at the time. If you then reflect on the animals-dying related sports played by the upper classes, foxhunting and game-shooting, you can see how this issue could be spun as a form of class warfare: why should the rich get to continue to flout their wealth and power by partaking in sports similar to those outlawed against the poor?

Kite’s piece, for me, desceneds into something to not be taken seriously when she begins to use petty arguments and comparisons to support her point:

“Naturally, if you ask our predominantly urban population whether people should be allowed to pull foxes apart with dogs (and some anti-hunting polling has asked almost exactly that), most will say no. But ask what affects them most – the health service or the way foxes are controlled – and hunting will never come up.”

It is certainly unfair to postulate that the NHS and foxhunting are on anyway the same level, but just because one is more important to the general public than the other, does not mean the ban on foxhunting is less important (indeed, people are more offended by cruelty to animals than to humans). As I often do, I went on to read an equivalent article in the Daily Mail, which claimed that the 300 or so foxhunts that took place around the UK were attended by 250000 people. The article said how “young hunt supporters were out in force for traditional Boxing Day meets” and then proceeds to mention “two year old Ella” and “four year old Hattie” who were out showing their support for the hunt. To me, it seems interesting how toddlers can support something they know nothing about, when their parents are obviously just painting the hunt as a fun day out for them. To me this is just another example of indoctrination (if you pardon the perhaps unnecessary hyperbole). The article did however, surprise me in that its comment section was full of comments in support of the ban perhaps throwing the article itself into disrepute.

Nevertheless, this issue is stupidly controversial, irregardless of a class warfare. The arguments supporting the hunt are weak and to me, there is no reason that the ban should be repealed. When you learn about how the vast majority of power in the UK is held be a select few rich Etonians, it is not difficult to see how the establishment has been actively working to support their own lifestyles, irregardless of the general public’s will (80% in support of the ban) – both Nigel Farage and David Cameron are opposed to the ban.

I hope the ban continues to be in place, yet I am saddened that it is rarely enforced, especially in the countryside. Hopefully as today’s youth grow up and take the places of those in power, attitudes will slowly change – after all it is not necessarily the death of the foxes that most people oppose, rather that they are killed in the least humane way possible.

Migration Myths and the EU

There has been a lot of hate thrown towards the EU this past week in the news and to be fair, it’s no surprise. I don’t expect any regular citizen was expecting an additional £1.7 billion contribution charge towards the EU and it could not have come at a worse time. It was reported this year that support for EU was at its highest level since 1991 according to IpsosMori, especially interesting considering UKIP’s success in Clacton-on-Sea.

It could be explained that in reaction to UKIP’s success at the European Parliament elections, people in response to the 1-policy party have either researched and learnt about the benefits of the EU or supported it in pure defiance. Either way this bill can only surely be negative, and that is what has been seen within the press.

According to various news sites, David Cameron delivered his most ‘embittered‘ attack on the EU yet, refusing to pay Brussels, a direct contradiction to his previous stance which was firmly pro-EU. Be it a reaction to this bill (which partly confirms UKIP’s mantra that Brussels has too much power) or simply a chance to try and regain Tory defectors, Cameron’s apparent switch to an anti-EU sentiment is dangerous. As this Mail article notes by ex-politician Ken Clarke, Cameron is wasting his time pandering to Tories who are only fuelling the public hysteria surrounding immigration by defecting to UKIP. An article in The Economist this week highlights just how bad this hysteria is becoming: ‘the average voter thinks foreign-born immigrants constitute 31% of the population well over twice the correct proportion.’ To me, this only confirms my disdain for headline grabbing papers such as the mail which bombard readers with anti-immigration articles (a search on the Mail’s homepage using CTRL+F revealed 2 articles concerning immigration – a surprising little amount).

Alongside this bill comes to EU tag-along of immigration. Having recently renewed my subscription to The Economist (thanks to a nifty student offer), I read an article entitled Immigration and Politics: The Melting Pot which considers UKIP and the importance of the EU and immigration to the party’s voters. It was interesting, yet unsurprising to me how those who are the most xenophobic are those who have had the least amount of contact with foreigners – the article cites how Londoners are among the most tolerant of immigrants, whereas interestingly, those in places such as Clacton-on-Sea are the least, where uncoincidentally, there are considerably less amounts of immigrants. To me this is where UKIP’s danger stems from, by targeting areas (especially coastal areas where social deprivation works only to exacerbate xenophobia) where there is higher xenophobic sentiment, UKIP can gain a strong foothold in UK politics (stronger than what exists today). What I find disturbing upon reading this article is the fact that these anti-foreigner voters feel immigration is one of the biggest problems faced by the UK within the EU – not EU loophole legislation that lets companies avoid tax and vice versa. This sentiment is reinforced and compounded upon by right-wing tabloids such as the Daily Mail.

I find the notion that Britain is bound by “law” to pay this bill, when no international law is actually binding. This is something we have been covering at university – what is international law and is it important? Personally, I am unsure of what I think of the EU bill. It does seem unfair to force Britain to pay more into a system that is clearly broken, just because we are doing well. However, upon reflection now I have actually put my initial thoughts into writing, I see that Britain is a key part of the EU and was a key player in the creation of its laws. When Britain joined the EU in 1973, it agreed to abide by the bounding treaties, and so it is fair enough that they should have to follow the rules they agreed to, and if it were the other way round (say France had to pay this much) would definitely not be saying now to enforcing it.

For once I may agree with Cameron, as well as Juncker. Reforms are the answer to the EU, an EU from which the UK benefits greatly both economically and socially (made all the more obvious now I am living in London). As Hobbes would note, humans group together for safety from rival powers, and to me, I do not see why the same cannot apply to states within the EU. To me, Britain’s main source of power and influence in a global scale comes from its importance and power within the EU, the world’s largest economy, and without this (as many businesses have confirmed) Britain would surely be on a rapid descent into economic turmoil, let alone a descent into complete insignificance on the global political stage.

Mansions, Bedrooms and a Tax on the Rich

This was definitely not the biggest news story this week, but a potential Mansion Tax has interested me for a while. Labour support it, the Greens support it, the Liberal Democrats did, but have since moved away from supporting it, but unsurprisingly it’s shock horror to the Tories.

I find the proposition of a mansion tax very interesting. It, apart from a high income tax on the top 1%, is one of few “in the news” policies which would significantly effect the elite, rich people (and as it happens a lot of normal people). Because of this, a plethora of misleading facts and detail has permeated the media. There is a lot of confusion over what a mansion tax would actually entail, which would be this: a tax on the value of a property above £2 million in value. As an example, a house worth £3 million would be taxed on the £1 million excess value.

In order to write this post I did a fair amount of research in order to attempt to balance my admittedly left-leaning view point that a mansion tax is a good thing. Doing so led me to this website: This website (a blog really) is at the forefront of anti-mansion tax webpages when you do a simple google search, and almost immediately attacks Labour and the Liberal Democrats (who do not support a mansion tax anymore, leading me to have less faith in this biased blog’s reliability) for supporting a tax that would place an ‘unfair property tax on 500,000 ordinary Londoners’, which is fair enough, but also leads me to ask: what about the rest of the UK? I do however, agree; there are many properties in London which I certainly would not consider mansions, and this is why I am primarily critical of the tax proposals themselves, but not the principal.

The arguments against the tax are, on the whole, fair points to make. People cannot help if their property has soared in value due to ridiculously out of control property markets. Many of these people are elderly people who have lived in their homes for the majority of their lives and are by no means rich. To saddle them with a tax that they cannot afford would be unfair (although we do not live in an inherently fair society). Consider the Daily Telegraph Article entitled Ed Miliband’s mansion tax and death duties will eat up inheritances, Treasury aide says. The article notes how ‘those who live in expensive homes but have limited means will be able to defer paying the tax until the property is sold.’ This shows how a mansion tax of which payments have been deferred for 20 years could leave bereaved family members with an unfair tax bill of £300,000. However, it is also important to consider this point in the BBC’s article How would a mansion tax work?: ‘At present, council tax bands are still based on valuations of homes made in 1991’, a time when many of the properties which at current valuation levels would be considered mansions, would not. That being said, the aforementioned Telegraph article poses more sinister questions. The article notes how the tax would be imposed ‘to help raise £1.3billion for the NHS.’ How then, could this tax be a bad thing if it is being used to fund the best part of the UK’s political and societal system? To me, this seems to be further evidence that the ultra-rich are becoming increasingly frustrated to have to pay towards everyone else’s healthcare, and if this is the sort of issue that the Telegraph wants to turn the mansion tax into, then I fully support its implementation. (For readers’ information, a similar article can be read on The Daily Mail)

Interesting as always, were some of this month’s Comment Is Free articles in the Guardian that concerned the mansion tax. This article, by Jonathan Portes immediately raised important points when it comes to an opinion on the tax, and these are points that I feel are important to raise:

Whatever one thinks of the so-called bedroom tax, there is no doubt it has led to considerable hardship for some poorer families […] as well as being an administrative burden for local authorities. It’s worth remembering that when evaluating the hysterical reaction in some quarters to the mansion tax, and in particular, the claims that it would be uniquely difficult to implement or desperately unfair to those who just want to continue living where they’ve always lived without having to pay an extra tax.

Yes, what about those who just want to continue living as they have always lived? How on earth is it fair to penalise poorer people for living in a council house with unused bedrooms (council houses that were allocated to them by the council) of which they have lived in for the majority of their lives, my grandparents as an example. It makes me angry that the rich can decry a mansion tax yet champion the mirroring tax on the poor. The seemingly fundamental hypocrisy that runs through the core of today’s domestic politics is infuriating, yet I am unsurprised to see hyperbolic mountains of comments from the public lining right wing articles that concern this issue: ‘Trouble is that with the escalating cost of benefits they have to try to find new ways to get money out of those that earn it, or have earned it, as there are not enough tax-payers around any more to pay for the feckless and the many many children that they think they are entitled to have on someone else’s dollar’. The notion that the expansion and continuation of the benefits system is the main point of a mansion tax highlights to me how little the media actually educates their readers, the tax being used to fund the UK’s biggest cost – the NHS.

I appreciate that the bedroom tax taxes the poor on homes which do not belong to them, but nevertheless, can we not tax the rich on the number of unused bedrooms in their homes? Mansions above a certain size, say of 10 bedrooms, mansions that were afforded off of the backs of the poor workers the rich utilised, mansions (if you take country manors as an isolated case) that were built on land taken from the poor that owned it, land that was given to the lucky few by those in power.

There is no one answer to the issue of unjust wealth distribution in the UK, but I feel that a mansion tax if properly imposed (on homes that are actually a mansion, or on £2 million+ properties on a case-by-case basis) would be beneficial to filling the widening social gap between rich and poor. It is true that the UK property market is by nature unfair and leaning in favour of the rich, especially on the climb up out of a recession, yet the government has a responsibility to its citizens, the 94% of which do not own a house worth over £500,000, let alone £2 million. Whatever happens, a tax on the rich that have amassed their wealth by using state funded projects, such as roads, public companies that are huge markets to privatised producers, and subsidised television (as examples), is necessary and fair, and I am completely supportive of the creation of a more level playing field for the rest of us trying to get by.

Climate Talks and Agendas

This issue has been done to death, covered by every news outlet five times over, this does not however make it less important today than it did, say, 10 years ago when I personally began noticing the problem of climate change. You would think that a problem so large scale, affecting every corner of the globe would get more coverage, especially during the United Nation’s climate change summit that took place this week.

The summit saw 120 world leaders talk for 4 minutes each about climate change, and was especially significant as for many, this was their inaugural summit. I figured that this alone was reason enough to write a blog post about coverage of climate change in the media today.

This article will look at coverage in newspapers further afield from my go-to the Guardian and the Daily Mail (although these will be included) and hopefully assess their impact on readers the world over. I remember reading many articles in the Guardian this week about climate change, with Obama declaring … however, when I visited the website, I can’t see anything on the front page. You may be thinking ‘well it was a few days ago’, which is true, but personally I feel it is still important enough of an issue to warrant at least some front page recognition, especially as miseducation about climate change is part of the reason why nothing is seemingly ever done about it.

Five ways Ban Ki-Moon’s summit has changed international climate politics forever was the first article I read in the Guardian concerning this summit, which was surprising given that it gives a more ‘Comment Is Free’ vibe, rather than a news story (which on reflection and examination, it may well act as). The third paragraph into this column reads ‘The UN climate summit did not conclude in a grand ‘agreement’.’ and this is where I feel the Guardian may have gone wrong. Part of the problem, in my opinion and experience discussing with fellow students at both university and school, if that many people feel exasperated with climate coverage, as like me, they feel nothing is ever really agreed upon or sorted out – only postponed. This summit is indeed a preface to the upcoming Paris 2015 conference when EU climate goals will be reassigned, yet the fact tat nothing was achieved only adds to this “climate change exhaustion”.

Nevertheless, the article in itself is a positive one, finishing with the explanation of its title: it gives 5 positive impacts the summit has had (something it should have opened with).

Contrastingly, when I read the Daily Telegraph, a right-wing broadsheet (a smart and socially acceptable brother of the Daily Mail) I see a significantly more negative take on the summit. One article, entitled How not all of Barack Obama’s climate change ‘facts’ in UN speech stack up appears to aim to discredit a large proportion of Obama’s speech. This caught my eye as it is a classic take on anything that suggests climate change at its current level is anthropogenic by nature. Let’s look at the opening ‘claim’ made by Obama:

‘OBAMA: “Over the past eight years, the United States has reduced our total carbon pollution by more than any other nation on Earth.”

THE FACTS: Europe as a whole has cut a bigger proportion of its emissions.’

You do not have to be stupid to notice the basic flaw here; Obama says his nation has cut its emissions the most out of the countries on earth, and the Telegraph dispels this with the fact that the EU as a whole has cut a ‘bigger proportion of its emissions’. I may not be a climate scientist working within the environmental and meteorological departments of the government meaning I can neither confirm nor deny this fact, but I can say that the EU is not a nation. Nevertheless, I am predisposed to dislike articles that aim to reduce the believability or importance of climate change, leading to perhaps the biggest culprit in this sense, the Mail.

Unsurprisingly, neither the summit, nor the hundreds of thousand strong demonstrations across the world (which even impacted my walk to university this Sunday) that coincided with it, made front page news on the Daily Mail website. In fact, it took a lot of searching today just to find a relevant article, leading me to a video of Obama’s speech, accompanied by a link to an article seemingly titled President Barack Obama says alarms ringing over climate change. Upon clicking, however, the article is in fact called: Obama’s new climate change rules will create ‘an unnecessary hurdle’ for global development work – including fight against Ebola, warns CDC official. Upon reading, the Mail changes an article which should be climate orientated, to an article concerning the work of the CDC (Centres for Disease Control and Prevention). Admittedly, this is also important, yet simultaneously classic of the Mail itself, and can be seen as another example of poor journalism. The Mail attempts to assert that we should not combat climate change, as it’s “cost” will inhibit other important work, such as fighting malaria and ebola abroad. This contrasts with information found in the Guardian revealing that an outcome of the summit was the revelation that cutting carbon emissions can walk hand in hand with a growing economy.

Climate change is a touchy topic, and another difference I found interesting when combing the aforementioned newspapers was articles relating to the recent study conducted by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as well as Washington University which supposedly found that changing wind patterns are the reason for increasing temperatures on the US’ West Coast. The Telegraph here, as well as the Mail here, covered this story, yet I could not find the equivalent article on the Guardian. This shows how, just as my professor noted in his International History lecture today, that journalists (and historians in the lecture’s case) can conveniently overlook facts that do not run with the associated journal’s agenda. This is not exclusive to the Guardian, and is very common in the Mail’s news coverage, especially on “contested” topics such as climate change.

What can be concluded from this, is again that no newspaper can be fully trusted, hence my inclination to read more than one. To me, this adds to my acknowledgement that climate change (and human responsibility for it) will never be universally accepted (at least for the foreseeable future), but also to my anger at news sources that continue to religiously dispute any evidence contrary to their agenda. Agendas naturally run deep within any publication, this blog for example aims to convince readers of my arguments and ideas, what is important, is that we, the public as readers, continually dispute and question what we read to extrapolate what truth we can get from it.

Miliband, Labour and Devolution

Inarguably, the Scottish independence referendum and its aftermath is the biggest news story this week; as a frequenter of both the Guardian and the Daily Mail (the perhaps most read papers on each end of the political spectrum), I can see just how important the referendum is to each paper. 4 days after the vote, both are still reporting on it. What I find interesting about their coverage, however, is the way in which it has been conducted.

Upon clicking on the Guardian homepage, I am immediately greeted by the following article: Cameron faces pressure to seal Scotland deal underneath lie a further 5 articles concerning the headline, including a Guardian view (The Guardian view on David Cameron playing politics with constitutional reform). I especially appreciate the inclusion of a ‘view’ (that is, a admittance of what the newspaper’s official stance on the issue is) and this is something I have noticed a lot over the past few weeks, as at least when you are considering the newspaper’s spin on the topic, you are aware of what they actually think.

In comparison, the Daily Mail news site greets me with a small link to the equivalent article, under a large, unflattering picture of Alex Salmond and his accompanying article, with the following headline: Miliband REJECTS English Votes for English laws and accuses Cameron of playing politics with Westminster ‘vow’ to Scotland. Without even reading the article, I can immediately tell the spin the Mail will take: anti-Labour and anti-Miliband.

I find this use of linguistics particularly interesting, with the Guardian using a straightforward, unbiased headline giving the reader a snapshot of the story, with the Mail in contrast, using a long-winded line laden with lexis and punctuation designed to incur anger.

The Mail refers to Ed Miliband constantly as ‘Mr. Miliband’ with David Cameron referred to in full. The use of ‘Mr’ can certainly be seen as belittling, which to an extent is fair enough as it is no secret that the Mail has right-wing leanings. The article constantly refers to his apparent rejection of ‘English votes for English laws’ which is actually never explicitly rejected by ‘Mr’ Miliband. This Miliband-bashing is nothing new to the Daily Mail, with an almost daily slew of slander coming his way. It is fine to not support or endorse Labour, but it is beggars belief that any paper that publishes an article entitled ‘Ed Miliband is WEIRD’ can be considered good journalism. The capital letters and sarcastic tone of writing undermines significantly Labour’s view on devolution to both Scotland – who should primarily be the focus in the political post-referendum sphere – and England.

It is obvious as to why Miliband avoids directly answering this question (should Scottish MPs have the vote on purely English issues?) as a large part of Labour’s MPs are Scottish based, yet nevertheless, I agree with the principle that Scotland’s devolution should be the government’s priority given that 45% of the Scottish population embraced independence and voted yes. This only lessens my respect for David Cameron, given his conditional and tactical addition of English devolution, alongside Scotland’s. To me, this appears as a result of Cameron’s near failure to maintain the Union, with Glasgow and Dundee voting in favour of independence, which if achieved, would have certainly seen his resignation.

English devolution is important, especially as currently the political focus is on London, but the inability of Scottish MPs to vote on English issues in Westminster would be unfair and also draw up further questions: should non-London MPs get to vote on London-centric issues and vice-versa? Similarly, how much time should be focused on London in Westminster etc. This is an obvious ploy by Cameron to reduce the influence of Labour, the main (barely) left-leaning party in parliament and leave England how the Tories would like it – right wing and conservative.

To me, this only stresses the importance of an awareness of what the papers want you to believe, and in no way am I suggesting that the Guardian is unbiased, yet in this case, I feel it offers a fairer and more comprehensive analysis of the current situation. The devolution question raises countless others, and it will be interesting to see how it develops over the coming days and weeks especially considering Cameron’s reneging on pre-referendum promises which is doing nothing to help the reputation of parliament, politicians or the Conservatives.

(Note: I appreciate the Daily Mail cannot really be considered a broad-sheet or even a well-respected publication, yet I chose it as so many people read it everyday.)