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).

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.

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.