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.

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).



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.