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.