The Independent Group must make electoral reform a priority if they want to change politics

Putting their name to electoral reform would give this group something to stand for- and a way to fix the system

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Broken politics. Change needed. No more ideology.

The sentiments of 11 MPs and a couple of local councillors, at the time of writing. These are the backbench MPs who have abandoned their parties- first Labour, then Conservative- to create a new type of politics. I will not explain much more- if you have not heard of The Independent Group (or TIG as they have been abbreviated to) then I am amazed that you have found this blog.

On the surface, one can only feel sorry for the Liberal Democrats, the centrist party with the same number of MPs as The Independent Group. Both are anti-Brexit, both have little chance of success in winning many seats and certainly no chance of becoming the government any time soon, and both are, how do you say, slightly less than an established, electable party.

But here’s another similarity that The Independent Group has a chance to fix, whilst it has already besmirched the Lib Dems. Both have no clear policy.

Something about legalising cannabis, something about opposing Brexit and something about homosexuals being sinful (but that was not quite party policy, was it Mr Farron?) Neither group have a clear set of goals aside from opposing Brexit or at least limiting the damage it does to the country.

For all its talk of fixing politics, straightening the break and pursuing policies that are ‘evidence-based’, The Independent Group have very little actual detail in terms of what they stand for.

So before this lack of direction sully’s their good name, let me throw my hat in the ring. Let me suggest a policy.

Something that truly is broken with our politics is our electoral system. The system used for our general elections does not represent the views of those who vote, nor does it encourage bipartisan government.

Why is it that the Liberal Democrats have done so badly recently? Well, many reasons but one problem is that under our current system, first-past-the-post (FPTP), it is not the number of votes you get as such, but where you get the votes.

Get thousands of votes but they are all in one constituency? Too bad, you might as well have got just one vote more than your opposition. Or alternatively, be the party that is just one vote less in say, 50 constituencies? Well, good news, under our current system, you get nothing. Might as well not have run. It does not matter that you got thousands of votes, they all count for nothing. Zilch.

Our current system keeps small parties out and misrepresents the share of the votes a party gets. It does not have to be this way.

The Liberal Democrats ran on the promise to hold a referendum on our electoral system in 2010 and the idea was popular, perhaps even popular enough to hoist them into government. Unfortunately, the same system that the Lib Dems were hoping to change meant that they were hoisted into government with a gun against their heads. Sure, they were in government, but now they had to compromise on many different policies, including electoral reform.

Unsurprisingly, the Conservative Party, which does quite well under first-past-the-post (at least until Theresa May came in) did not want to change the electoral system.

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So, rather than offering a proportional system as an alternative, a system that meant every vote counts and one that has a lot more democratic legitimacy, the Conservative-Lib Dem government asked the public whether they wanted to maintain the status-quo or vote for a horrible messy compromise, that would please no one. Rather than offering proportional representation as an alternative, they offered AV, which is not proportional but equally, not FPTP either.

And to that end, as it was not June 2016, the public did not vote to do itself damage, instead choosing to maintain the status quo. So, after the AV referendum of 2011, electoral reform was buried.

Time to bring it back.

If The Independent Group are serious about changing politics and about ensuring that every voice is heard, they should ensure that every vote counts- and that means replacing FPTP with a truly proportional electoral system.

There are many different versions, but all proportional systems ensure that if you vote for a party, that vote will be represented when the Parliamentary representatives take their seat after the election. Broadly speaking, if a party receives two-thirds of the electorate’s vote, two-thirds of the elected representatives will be from that party.

This does not happen under our current system.

In the 2015 general election, one minority party won nearly four million votes. It’s reward for winning a thumping 12.6% of the vote? One MP, or rather, 0.15% of the representatives elected.

How can we consider this fair representation of public sentiment?

On The Independent Group’s website, the first line states that they wish to ‘put the best interests of our constituents and our country first’. How about committing to represent the true views of those constituents by campaigning to introduce a fairer, more representative electoral system?

The Independent Group may list eleven broadly-democratic principles on their website and state a desire to pursue policies that are ‘not led by ideology’, but they have none yet.

Reforming the electoral system, seriously- not a watered down attempt as the Lib Dem’s did – is an evidence based, non-ideological reform that would give the ‘group’ something to stand for, something to distinguish themselves from the murk of centrist, anti-Brexit parties and would actually lead to TIP potentially having a real say in the governance of the country, in future elections.

If The Independent Group do not want to become just another has-been as the Lib Dems have become, then this is a solid, democratic and serious policy to put on their manifesto.

It is time The Independent Group fixed our ‘broken’ politics by supporting electoral reform and ending decades of unrepresentative democracy.

Featured image: Unsplash/ Elliot Stallion


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If we take one lesson from Brexit…

With Brexit causing chaos and voters of all beliefs unhappy, it is clear we must educate the electorate for a more successful democracy

Teetering near the cliff edge, Britain has never looked closer to a no-deal Brexit. That or a second referendum and regular readers will remember Principled Politics believes a ‘People’s Vote’ should absolutely not happen, in the name of democracy.

But, putting aside the temporary mess in Westminster, we must look to the long-term. What lessons can we learn from the past two years? What one thing should we take away from Brexit, the referendum and the chaos that has surrounded us?

One thing stands out- and it is not that buses with slogans can change the course of history. No, it is that Britain needs a civic course on the curriculum.

The level of misinformation and uneducated opinion that was spouted throughout the EU referendum, on both sides, reveals the degree to which the electorate has little understanding of how the UK political system works.

Whether it was Leavers’ believing that the full £350 million was up for grabs (a simple history lesson on Thatcher’s rebate would have settled this), or Remainers believing that Brexit would lead to a European war (not kidding, David Cameron suggested this on the 9th May 2016), both sides fell into the trap of believing dubious lies about the EU.

More precisely, in an Ipsos MORI poll from June 2016, 20% of those surveyed believed MEPs to be unelected and just over half knew they were, in fact, elected officials.

Even now, half of Theresa May’s difficulties in Parliament arise from the fact she promised the electorate a unicorn and in reality, can only produce a donkey with an aerosol can taped to its head. A lack of education set the Brexit bar far too high, leaving the government- and the country- in high water.

To me, it is madness that in the twenty-first century, we still expect the electorate to make sensible decisions for the UK, without having the necessary education. We are yet to take the blindfolds off the group playing cards, yet to remove the musician’s earmuffs. We are yet to educate the voter.

An understanding of the UKs political system should be made compulsory in schools, similar to how students must get at least a C in maths and English to move beyond their GCSEs.

Regardless of whether a citizen chooses to participate in our democracy, political policies affect everyone- through taxes, regulations and government policy.

When you use the NHS, the quality of treatment you receive stems from the government’s policy on healthcare funding. When schools increasingly spend less and less on your child, this is a direct result of the amount given by the government to councils. In everyday activities, politics is deeply influential and must be understood on some level.

In December 2016, Jason Brennan wrote ‘Is this the end of democracy?’ for the New Statesman, in which he argued that:

“voters nearly always lack the necessary knowledge. They are not just ignorant; they are misinformed. Democracy is the will of the people, but the people usually have little clue what they are doing.”

It is ludicrous that up until this point, such an important piece of education has been missed.

Yet, there are several criticisms of compulsory civic education.

The first is that politics is for the metropolitan elite. Most people have no desire to change politics in any means, shape or form. People do not want to learn about politics, period.

Yet, my answer to this is that whilst I hated my maths lessons, I am glad I had them. Whilst Pythagoras’ Theorem has yet to come in handy, an elementary understanding of mathematics has proved useful to me time and time again, regardless of how ‘irrelevant’ it is to a history undergrad.

Politics is similar to the basics of our curriculum: maths, sciences and English. It can often be tedious, dry, and seemingly irrelevant in equal measure. But it is essential knowledge for making decisions that affect our lives: over how well our illnesses are treated, how our old people are looked after, whether we can afford to buy a house and how much tax we must pay.  To say a knowledge of politics is not necessary is to willingly embrace ignorance and therefore, powerlessness.

A second criticism to be made of civic education is that this could be easily be violated, with a government setting a partisan curriculum, causing a generation to be taught biased values.

But the reality is that neither Conservatives nor Socialists, Liberals nor Nationalists of the British democratic tradition have ever advocated indoctrination as a useful means of education.

It would be perfectly possible for students to receive a nonpartisan political education, of the sort I chose to take up in sixth form. In the same way students are taught about Catholicism and Protestantism, it does not convert them but simply opens their minds.

Even if individual teachers were to have a political sway, students at school do not take teachers at their word- the amount of backchat I have heard thoroughly reassures me. Schools are places where students question values and teach themselves new ones- from books as much as from teachers.

Having an educated electorate would benefit political participation in this country.

No general election since 1997 has been able to achieve a turnout of 72%, a figure consistently surpassed for the 50 years before 1997. In the second half of the twentieth century, participation was consistently high, now it is disappointingly lower.

Educating the electorate just might solve this real democratic problem.

An understanding of what goes on in Westminster might stop MPs from being dismissed as elitist individuals in a confusing world. It would unlock an understanding of the way the world works around us. If people understood politics, it would not seem so boring nor so irrelevant.

Fundamentally, if everyone knew what the Single Market was, if everyone understood that Parliament is sovereign as stated in our constitution (yes, we do have a constitution) and if everyone understood how unproportional First-Past-The-Post was, we might have a real chance of rejuvenating politics and even bringing about real change.

Brexit revealed that no part of the electorate was safe from misinformation and misunderstanding. It is time the UK introduced a compulsory civics course to return power to the people.

Featured image: Principled Politics


Would compulsory political education benefit UK students and the electorate? Drop your thoughts in the comments below!
 

 

Is Britain as democratic as Brexiteers say?

As the UK gets ready to leave the ‘undemocratic EU’, it is time to look at our own undemocratic institutions.

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Twitter/ UKIP

Brexiteers’ rhetoric regularly presents the European Union as the bureaucratic, illegitimate, and undemocratic beast, seeking to clip the wings of Britain, the ideal democratic oasis.

However, Brexiteers should look in the mirror. Although the EU is undeniably bureaucratic, and Britain does have an impressive legacy of parliamentary government, the UK’s governing arrangements are not as democratic as they may seem.

Leaving out the unelected House of Lords, there are numerous institutions at Westminster that are significantly undemocratic. In a 2011 study by the University of Zurich and the Social Science Research Centre in Berlin, Britain came 26th out of 30 countries for its democracy, beating only France, Poland, South Africa and Costa Rica.

But this is not simply a ‘Remoaner’ vindication of the European Union’s many flaws, nor news to many of the ‘Westminster Bubble’, but a reminder that in the UK we are not quite as principled as Brexiteers might have the electorate believe.

Electoral System

The most well-known undemocratic institution in UK politics is the electoral system, thanks in part to a referendum in 2011.

In general elections, the First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) system is used, a non-proportional method that relies on constituency ‘seats’ rather than number of votes to produce a government. This can often lead to very undemocratic outcomes.

In the 2015 general election, the UK Independence Party (UKIP) secured 12.6% of the votes. However, due to FPTP, UKIP gained just one seat. Or, to put it plainly, UKIP’s 12.6% share of the vote secured 0.15% of the seats in the Commons.

Since FPTP relies on constituencies being won by a simple majority, where the winner only has to get one vote more than the next candidate, some votes in the UK are worth ‘more’ than others. By relying on simple majorities in constituencies, it is not how many votes, but where the votes come from that matters.

Under FPTP, a few votes in one constituency are worth more than one hundred in every constituency. This makes it difficult for small parties with support spread throughout the country, making it difficult for them to gain representation.

So, whilst in the 2015 election the Conservatives required on average 34,242 votes to win a seat, UKIP gained 3,881,099 votes and gained just one seat. This was because the Conservatives hold many safe seats where their support is concentrated, whilst UKIP do not. Put simply, the Conservatives needed just 0.11% of the vote to win a seat whilst UKIP essentially needed 12.6%.

This, clearly, is neither fair nor democratic.

The FPTP system artificially produces a parliament in which there are two main parties, with a smattering of smaller ones. The reality is that on votes alone, both main parties have less sway over the electorate.

This has much wider consequences. Under our current electoral system, the ruling party of the day often has less than a third of the electorate’s support.

In the 2017 general election, May’s Conservatives failed to gain a majority of seats. In order to claim the democratic legitimacy to rule, the Conservatives made an agreement with the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) to ensure that they had a majority of seats in the Commons.

Yet, even with the Conservatives and DUP votes combined, they still fall short of having an absolute majority from the electorate. More precisely, the current UK government has 29.73% of the entire electorate’s backing, including those who chose to spoil their ballot or not vote. As such, it is odd that a government can claim democratic legitimacy when nearly three quarters of the country did not vote for that government.

FPTP is undemocratic as it produces a government that is unrepresentative of the electorate’s votes and excludes minority views, artificially channelling the two main parties.

A more democratic and representative electoral system would be one of the several forms of proportional representation, which translates the number of votes into a similar number of seats.

Party Leaders

Party leaders are elected. They can also be unelected, and they can be removed by their own parliamentary party (PLP). It may then come as a surprise that party leaders are, in fact, surprisingly undemocratic.

However, the late Anthony King, former Millennium Professor of British Government at the University of Essex, was profoundly aware of this paradox. In ‘Who Governs Britain?’, King set out the reality that whilst leaders are elected by their party members, the number of the members is rapidly shrinking. This is thereby making the electorate choose between two leaders, both of whom have been selected only by an absolute minority of voters.

For example, in 2015, Jeremy Corbyn was elected Labour leader by just over 251,000 party members. Yet, when the electorate went to the polls in 2017, some 12,900,000 voted for Labour. So, whilst nearly 13 million voted for the Labour party, just 1.95% of those individuals actually ever chose Corbyn as leader.

In essence, due to falling numbers of party members, party leaders are becoming increasingly undemocratic and lacking a popular mandate from that party’s voters as a whole.

JC
Although the Labour Party has millions of voters, Corbyn relies on only a tiny minority of those to remain as leader.

More worryingly, King argued that the views of party members and the views of the electorate can be wildly different.

Whilst many of the Labour party members who voted for Corbyn in 2015 were in their 60s and young people, the vast majority of Labour voters in 2017 fitted neither of these categories. However, they were largely offered the choice of the Conservatives or voting for Labour led by a man they had not chosen.

This is clear when looking at the case of Corbyn within Westminster.

After Corbyn’s limited role in promoting ‘Britain Stronger In Europe’ in 2016, the Labour parliamentary party decided to remove him as leader, seeing the referendum as a test that he had failed. Between 24th and 27th June, 23 shadow ministers resigned alongside 7 parliamentary private secretaries. On 28th June 2016, Corbyn lost a vote of no confidence in the Commons, with 172 of his Labour MPs voting against him to just 40 with him.

However, Corbyn remained as leader following a leadership contest in September in which he gained a majority of 61.8% of the party members. This group clearly have  different views on where Labour should be heading compared to ordinary voters who elected their MPs and who in turn voted ‘no confidence’ in Corbyn.

So, the Labour Party has demonstrated that the vast majority who vote for their party neither like their leader nor have any great say in it, suggesting that party leaders are becoming increasingly undemocratic as party membership falls. As well as this, party leaders are surprisingly hard to get rid of when elected, as shown by the Labour PLP’s vote of no confidence being overruled.

The Civil Service

An element of the UK’s political workings that is often less talked about, but deeply undemocratic, is the civil service.

This civil service is the army of bureaucrats working for ministers and MPs, forming legislation, generating policy ideas and carrying out the bulk of parliamentary work. However, unlike MPs, civil servants, although politically neutral,  are unelected and largely unaccountable to the electorate for any policy they produce.

Yet, more worryingly is the distinct form of civil servant, often referred to in Westminster as Special Advisors (SpAds).

These are individuals recruited by the government through ministerial patronage, outside of the usual civil service stream. More specifically, SpAds are nakedly partisan unlike the bulk of the usual service, and yet like them, are still largely unaccountable.

SpAds generally have significant power and influence, shaping policy and even changing the direction of government, all while the ‘ordinary man’ on the street has little or no idea who they are.  David Cameron had over 100 SpAds, most of whom were influential and yet unknown.

A more recent example is that of Nick Timothy and Fiona Hill, Theresa May’s former Joint-Chiefs of Staff.

These two SpAds essentially controlled much of the thought and direction at the top of the Conservative Party, with both Timothy and Hill clashing against elected ministers such as Philip Hammond. It was in fact these two that largely formulated May’s manifesto for the 2017 general election, which was then put to the electorate with no mention of themselves.

They essentially were as influential as ministers, if not more, but were entirely unelected, and largely unknown, a position that is undeniably undemocratic.

It was only May’s loss of her majority and their subsequent firing that brought them into the public eye beyond the politicians, journalists and those who follow Westminster very closely. A week after their demise, the Daily Telegraph published an article entitled: “Who are Nick Timothy, and Fiona Hill […]?”

The fact that SpAds have increasingly created a threatening environment for elected politicians as well as civil servants only emphasises how undemocratic their position is.

Alsadair Palmer of the Telegraph was not wrong in writing in November 2015 an article entitled ‘David Cameron’s vast army of unelected spies and SpAds threatens British Democracy’.  

The civil service, and SpAds in particular, are clearly an element in the UK political system that fails to be democratic, with shadowy civil servants pulling the strings behind closed doors.

Whips 

Parliamentary whips are vital to maintaining government unity, but they are also undemocratic in that they use threats and promises to make MPs vote in their party’s best interests, rather than in the interests of their constituents.

Whips offer can offer rewards in the form of opportunities, but more often use threats such as a bar from ministerial work or even suspension from the party if an MP does not vote as the leader would like. Even worse, whips are rumoured to have a ‘black book’ in which they record potential scandals for MPs such as claims of sexual harassment. These scandals can then be used to blackmail an MP into voting the ‘right’ way.

Making an MP choose between serving their constituents and their conscience or serving their Chief Whip is obviously undemocratic, regardless of how common an occurrence it is. When constituents vote for their MP, they do not do so expecting that MP to be blackmailed to vote against their interests.

Ultimately, the very principle of using threats to pass legislation is blatantly undemocratic.

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Brexiteers have argued that when the UK officially leaves the EU, we will regain our sovereignty and be restored, free of the undemocratic ideals and practices used on the continent.

This article has revealed that this image is a little rose-tinted.

There is no denying that Britain is a great democracy, famed for its long history of parliamentary rule, and aspired to by less democratic nations. However, there is clearly still work to be done and there are still institutions within Westminster that are nakedly undemocratic.

Whether it is one person’s vote being worth less than another’s, Prime Minister’s being elected when most of their party’s voters do not support them, or indeed MPs being overruled by the unelected or threatened by whips, Britain is not fully democratic.

Clearly, Britain is not as democratic as Brexiteers might have you believe.

 

Solving London’s crimewave

Whilst Rudd has announced new policies to deal with London’s gang warfare, individual Londoners should do more to help…

Walking along the South Bank with one of my best friends, it feels like London is the safest city in the world.

As an affluent middle-class student strolling through St James’ Park, I would never know that I am in a city where over 50 people have been murdered this year. The problem is the rise in murder rates amongst youths. Shootings, stabbings, acid attacks, all perhaps ‘part and parcel’ of the so-called ‘postcode wars’ London youth gangs engage in.

But an issue for so many Londoners is that this problem feels so distant, like London has been plunged into The Purge, except that we are the audience, watching and yet safe.

Today, home secretary Amber Rudd has launched her new government proposals to make the city safer, including restricting the sale of knives online, banning the sale of acid to under-18s, and working harder to prevent youths from taking and supplying drugs. There will not be a rise in police numbers, but as Rudd puts it, “simplistic arguments are not substitutes for a serious strategy”.

So, some good policies and maybe some unwise arse-covering, but real change cannot come about until every Londoner feel’s that this issue directly affects them. To bring about substantial change, May and Rudd cannot simply alter policy, but need to alter mind-set as well. Prosperous Londoners need to feel that the city’s rising murder rate is their problem and need to be informed about how they can help.

In The Times today, David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham, writes a powerful and impassioned case on this issue. Asking the question whether black lives matter less to London, Lammy says:

“Am I really meant to believe that if four young men were murdered in Richmond the prime minister would be nowhere to be seen? If a teenage girl was gunned down in a residential street in leafy middle England would the home secretary be hiding away?”

Lammy is absolutely right.

If someone was murdered in Richmond or Kew, the community would leap into action to protect its own. A support group would be created, organisations to keep the young active and away from crime would spring up and maybe a fund would be established to support charities.

But since it is Richmond, there is no need.

Crime does happen, of course, but for the majority of those living in Richmond, it is not gang culture they turn to out of boredom, but a weekend abroad. Council programmes exist alongside charities in Richmond, but they are not overworked or non-existent as they are in destitute areas of London.

The average Kew commuter travelling to their city job  is likely to have little idea how to help a community that seems a world away. The realm of stabbings and gunshot wounds can seem as foreign as Beirut and a way of helping, as distant as the planet Mars.

It is up to both the government and to local councils across London to narrow the sense of distance between such disparate communities and give those least affected an accessible means to help those most endangered.

Is it possible to volunteer at a predominantly black youth sports club one day a week, if you are a white male from Surrey? Is there a way that the worried commuter can actively engage in taking potential dealers off the street by running leisure activities  to give teenagers a sense of purpose? It is exactly this sort of engagement and creation of community feeling that Rudd should have suggested today.

I have little doubt that a call to give money would nudge affluent Londoners to help the awful situation in Syria, surely the same should apply to areas like Tottenham?

Gang culture can change if people can be engaged and made aware of opportunities to help ailing communities.

If the government and local councils provided a means  to help worse-off communities, genuine progress could be achieved. Bureaucratic policies do help, but there is an army of aide that is yet to be unleashed.

Fundamentally, the murder scare in London needs to be brought out of its disadvantaged, predominantly black enclave and made an issue that all Londoners are aware off, engaged in and able to help.

 

 

 

Rowley was on the correct path, but more needs to be done to counter the far-right:

With far-right ideas spreading, the British public must do more to counter racism and other forms of hate:

“We hate the blacks.”

The words chanted by two individuals outside of Rufaro Chisango’s room in Nottingham Trent University. Not five decades ago, but just five days ago on the 5th March 2018.

Interestingly, this comes just two weeks after Mark Rowley, Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police warned the public of the rising threat of the far-right in the UK.

More specifically, Rowley spoke of how there have now been four far-right terror attempts stopped by the Met and drew comparisons between this form of terror and the more ‘conventional’ terror brought about by religious extremists, such as Islamic State (IS).

Yet, here is the problem.

Whilst Rowley was correct to draw attention to the threat of the far-right in the UK, he should have gone further. Rowley should have made clear just how much of a menace the British far-right is becoming in everyday society.

This is clear if we look at extreme forms of racism in the UK, and in particular, by looking at the number of hate crimes committed on the basis of race.

The Home Office describes a hate crime as “any criminal offence which is perceived, by the victim or any other person, to be motivated by hostility or prejudice towards someone based on a personal characteristic”. Obviously, this creates a predisposition towards ordinary crime being ‘racialized’ by the victim, however, the Home Office’s recordings on hate crimes are still very useful in analysing the spread of far-right beliefs.

According to the Home Office’s own data, the number of “hate crimes recorded by the police, by monitored strand” in 2016/17 was 62,685 based on race, and a further 5,949 hate crimes as a result of religion.

Even excluding hate crimes generated by sexual orientation, disability and transphobia, this still means that in Britain there were over 68,000 hate crimes reported in one year, an extraordinary figure for such a supposedly multicultural nation.

However, even more concerning is that according to those same statistics, the number of hate crimes is on the rise.

In the 2012/13 year there were only 35,845 reported hate crimes based on race, going up to 42,862 in the 2014/15 year, and then up to 49,419 in 2015/16.

So, according to the Home Office’s data, increasing numbers of racial hate crimes are being recorded by the police, with the latest year on record being almost double that of five years ago.

Of course, it may not entirely be a rise in intolerance. A rise in the actual reporting of hate crimes would significantly increase the number of reports. Similarly, the efficiency of the reports may have been improved, as well as a greater awareness by the public of the ability to report racial abuse. Even Theresa May speaking out on social issues over the past few years may have had a limited impact in causing a rise in reports.

Yet, the increase from over 35,000 to nearly 63,000 is too large to be a result of improved administration and care alone. The statistics are clear.

The attitudes and beliefs of the far-right are genuinely spreading within the UK.

Now, the idea may seem ridiculous, but let’s take a step back.

The far-right is a much-misconceived body. Talk of groups like National Action and Britain First often conjure images of balaclava-clad criminals, operating in the shadows and being social outsiders, in particular being minute groups of people. But the reality is that both groups have a much wider following, regardless of National Action being illegal.

As reflected by the growth in reports of racial hatred, the Home Office data seems to suggest that racial tensions within the UK are hardening, and more worryingly that a minority of Britons are becoming increasingly willing to actually act on their prejudices.

Of the racial hate crimes mentioned in the 2016/17 year, 33% were acts of violence directed at an individual as a result of their race, with the majority being public order offences.

The fact that Rowley has had to draw comparisons between the far-right and radical Islam, the latter having killed nearly 50 people in the UK and the US last year, reveals that amongst the UK’s security services the threat is considered real enough. Let’s not forget that the only murder of a serving MP in the last two hundred years (outside of the Irish issue) was the assassination of Labour’s Jo Cox, by a man associated with the far-right.

So, in light of the fact that far-right ideas are spreading, and that these ideas are a dangerous cause of action, the British people should be made more greatly aware of such a threat.

Rather than turning a blind eye to a shameful truth, we must recognise that hate crimes and racial violence are derivative of the far-right and that these are much more prevalent in British society than the traditional threats of Islamic terrorism.

Rowley was right to openly speak of the far-right as a growing and real terror threat, but we must also recognise that racial hatred and the rise of Islamophobia after the terror attacks in Britain last year are exactly the desires of these home-grown terrorists.

If there is any light at the end of the tunnel, it is that whilst on average 174 racial hate crimes were reported every day in the 2016/17 year, only 47% of these reports resulted in a charge or a summons.

So, perhaps whilst the ideas of the far-right are certainly on the rise, it is early enough to stop these ideas leading to action, whether as abuse or terrorism.

Thanks to Rowley, the British public has been made aware of the far-right, but now it is the duty of everyone to make sure that their ideas are contained and shut down. Events such as the abuse at Nottingham Trent University cannot be allowed to happen again.

 

 

 

Feminism: Not for everybody?

Why the Concept of Feminism Still Has to be Justified a Century After Feminists First Achieved Success:

 

Feminism.

It is the theory of the political, economic and social equality of the sexes.

Or, more precisely, it is the belief that women should be allowed the same rights, power, and opportunities as men and be treated in the same way, or the set of activities intended to achieve this state.

Not my words, but those of the Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Cambridge Dictionary.

But in both, the notion of ‘equality’ springs forth. So, why is it that on the day commemorating the achievements of notable feminists, the very concept of feminism is still under threat?

Occasionally, you hear of right-wing individuals attacking feminism, such as the news outlet Breitbart publishing a video with the title ‘Would You Rather Your Child Had Feminism or Cancer?’ However, the notion that feminism is only discredited by noticeably right-wing individuals should not be accepted. Rather, it seems that amongst quite moderate Conservatives, and even members of the left, there is significant opposition to the concept.

In particular, it was on the anniversary of the Women’s March on the 21st of January this year, that a friend of mine who I consider to be socially liberal tweeted:

“What rights is it that women don’t have that men do in the UK again?”

Similarly, another friend of mine questioned the need for a women’s march, whilst on twitter, the user @DeepSouthProud rose to prominence tweeting:

“#WomensMarch2018 You want to be taken seriously? Stop demanding special treatment because of your genitalia.”

So, to me it seems that there is opposition to feminism and that it is not misogynistic, but rather derived from the belief that equality of the sexes has already arrived.  But has it?

Well, an easy way to understand this concept is to examine the representation of women in the UK.

Within the current UK government, there are nine women who attend the 29-member cabinet, with the current PM and Home Secretary being women. This suggests that women have just less than a third of a say in the cabinet, positions aside.

More broadly, in the House of Commons, women account for just 208 or 35% of the 650 MPs in Parliament. In the House of Lords, this figure is worse, with only 199 female peers amongst the 826 peers in total, making women’s representation in the second chamber stand at just 24%.

So, at least on a national level, the idea of gender equality has not yet emerged in the political forum.

Aside from representation, the gender pay gap is a big grievance. The gender pay gap is the notion that women are paid less than men in companies and businesses, despite being equally qualified.

Whilst some critics have argued that this does not exist for reasons such as that women don’t do the same work, or because of maternity leave, women work for less days per annum, the reality is that this issue does exist. Not only is the maternity leave argument nonsense, some critics have gone so far to argue that due to the nature of the free market, if women were paid less, then they would be hired more than men and since this is not the case, there is no pay gap. Ultimately, some resort to ‘it’s complicated, but it fundamentally does not exist’. When ‘it’s complicated’ produces some actual evidence, then I’ll take the argument seriously.

The gender pay gap has been perhaps most colourfully revealed in the UK recently by the revelation that the BBC pays many of its female staff less than their male equivalents. This has led to some men accepting pay cuts in the name of equality, such as presenters Nick Robinson and Huw Edwards. In particular, an emphatic revelation that the pay gap is real was the BBC’s China editor, Carrie Gracie resigning in January 2018 as a protest against male international editors being paid more.

However, on a national level, it is similarly obvious that a gender pay gap exists. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the gender pay gap between men and women is falling, but in 2017 was at 18.4% when including both full and part time workers in the UK.

So, as well as being unfairly represented, women are still unfairly paid in the twenty-first century. Clearly, the position of women today is far superior to the position of women fifty years ago, but the evidence is clear that there is still very much a need for feminism to be ingrained in the current political climate.

Yet, despite both these issues, people still widely deny that they are feminists or that fourth wave feminism (the current variant in Europe) is a force for good. So, I turned to the wonders of the internet.

The top article to come up criticising third wave feminism is from a blogging group called Odyssey, which opens by stating that “Third Wave Feminists Have Ruined Feminism”.

The key grievance is that a select minority of feminists have carried out questionable protests such as the claim that women engaged in “sexual intercourse with crucifixes right outside the Vatican (yes, this actually happened)”.

Looking at other articles, the similar grievance of third wave feminism being too outlandish and controversial is reiterated. Rather than engaging with creating gender equality, many articles tear into feminists for being lurid and vulgar in their approach.

So, to me the reason that people seem to oppose feminism in the twenty-first century is either that they believe equality of the sexes has arrived (it has not) or because of a very small minority of feminists that have offended them and therefore they refuse to identify with the movement.

To me, it seems obvious that both of these are fairly ridiculous arguments and to find that largely progressive friends refuse to accept feminism as either healthy or necessary has been as disappointing as it was surprising. On the day marking one hundred years since women (partially) got the vote in the UK, the lack of support for such a movement is surprising.

Fundamentally, until equality is achieved, the notion that third wave feminism is an irrelevance should be discarded, and it is right that feminist debate continues to exist in Parliament, in universities and more broadly in society.

 

 

Eu Referendum No. 2: Dangerous for Democracy?

For many Remainers, the idea of a second referendum is a chance to reverse a major mistake. But the reality is that this option may lead to much more severe consequences.

 Pigs flew through the sky. Donald Trump opened the borders indefinitely to illegal migration. And Nigel Farage said that a second referendum on Brexit may happen.

Well, the last of those is true, even if all three seem some sort of bizarre parody, echoing from a parallel universe. To be precise, Nigel Farage stated that:

I do not want a second referendum, but I fear one may be forced upon the country by Parliament… This poses a big question for Leavers. Do we stick with the view that the result will stand or acknowledge the fact that we face this potential threat?

Henry Bolton, the current leader of UKIP, sought to clarify that Farage had misspoken, but stated that should there be a second referendum on Britain leaving the EU, “we would win it hands down”.

Of course, Downing Street swiftly replied that “we will not be having a second referendum”.

But, Downing Street also stated in Spring 2017 that there would be no snap election, and more recently it announced that there would be a significant cabinet reshuffle. Well, the only major shuffle was Theresa May moving from captain of a sinking ship to the violinist playing passively whilst the Titanic disappears beneath the waves.

So, we cannot rule out the possibility that a second referendum will not happen within the next two years. But here is why it is critical to UK democracy that this never occurs.

A recent study carried out suggested that within stable liberal democracies, faith in democracy is decreasing.

More precisely, in a study conducted by Yascha Mounk, a Harvard University researcher, and by Robert Stefan Foa, a political scientist at the University of Melbourne, it was concluded that there was a notable decline in belief that democracy is vital to civil society.

Published in the Journal of Democracy in January 2017, their research appears to be the most recent comprehensive examination of this issue. The conclusion that democracy is on the down is drawn from surveying the attitudes of those in Western Europe, North America, Australia and New Zealand.

In an article about their findings in July 2016, it was argued that:

[citizens] have also become more cynical about the value of democracy as a political system, less hopeful that anything they do might influence public policy.

This feeling of powerlessness is arguably reflected in the sudden backlash against the establishment, with the election of a TV celebrity as POTUS and the public decision to leave the European Union.

anti-democracy
Should we be more aware of antipathy to democracy?

However, this is my own conjecture. More conclusively, the study states that in the USA, a ground-breaking 26% of the ‘millennial’ generation, (roughly those born between the mid-1980s and late-1990s), believe that free elections are “unimportant” in civil society.

So, how does this link to Farage, British politics and a second referendum?

Well, despite viewing Brexit as the result of a campaign of misinformation and elitism from the ‘Westminster Bubble’, I think the UK must leave the EU.

If there were to be a second referendum on Britain’s membership of the European Union, and if the electorate voted to remain, (two big ‘ifs’), this could hugely threaten democracy.

For those who voted leave, it would simply feel like the establishment played them and called them ‘racist plebs’. Their opinion would be overruled by the second referendum. It is effectively like rolling the dice over and over until you get the number that you want. Put simply, it is not fair.

As much as it kills me to say this, ‘the people have spoken’, and Britain must leave the European Union for the sake of maintaining faith in democracy.

Of course, this could simply be hysteria over nothing.

Mounk and Foa’s study stands alone in the 2016/2017 era of politics and has gone largely unchallenged by any similar research. More importantly, it cites questionable statistics. Of those surveyed in Europe, only 36% of millennials felt that a military coup was an illegitimate form of taking power in a democracy, compared to 53% of “older citizens”. Surely more people would oppose the concept of a military takeover?

Nonetheless, an apathy to democratic systems has been widely noted by Western political pundits.

Voter participation is generally viewed as an effective method to measure a healthy democracy. The more people voting and engaging in politics, the greater degree of legitimacy a government has and the healthier a democracy is. If participation is low, it may mean that citizens are turning their backs on the system.

In the UK general election of June 2017, only 68.7% of the electorate voted. Whilst that was the highest level of voter participation since 1997, it pales in comparison to the 1960s and ‘70s where participation averaged at 75.8%. Current participation is even worse when compared to the 1950s where it was not uncommon for over 80% of the electorate to vote, such as in the 1951 general election.

So, there is significant apathy to democracy, and potentially even the threat that a minority of the electorate are falling out of love with the system.

A second EU referendum would undoubtedly alienate a section of UK society. Either Leave voters original win would be ignored, or some of the London elite would struggle to understand losing a second referendum to ‘racists’, ‘economic incompetents’ and the disgruntled. Nicola Sturgeon’s reaction to the first EU referendum only highlights how whole sectors of society can feel their view is ignored in a democracy.

Whilst not trying to be hyperbolic, the growth of the far-right and authoritarian politics is widely linked with the collapse of faith in democracy. In 2017, these ideologies grew, such as when the Austrian nationalist Freedom Party (FPÖ) re-entered government.

So, a second referendum should be avoided at all costs, the evidence is there and it should not be ignored without caution. For the sake of our democracy, Britain has no choice but to leave the EU.