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.

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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.

 

 

 

Theresa May’s domestic attacks on Islamic State should worry us all

Counting the attack in New York on the 31st of October, there have been seven terrorist attacks in Britain and the USA over the past year, in which 48 people have died.

Alongside rising levels of Islamophobia, there has been increasing pressure to find a stronger solution to the threat of radical Islamic terror. Just six months ago, Theresa May stated her desire for exactly that, and now it is possible that new legislation is coming. What the new measures themselves would be was left intentionally ambiguous, but it is more than likely that these would involve greater government intervention into citizen’s private lives.

So, for the politicians creating these new laws, a balance must be drawn between a pragmatic desire for greater security and the vital importance of upholding individual liberties and preventing the overextension of governmental power. In particular, politicians should reflect on the modern history of counter-terrorism, and how the removal of rights can be the ordinary citizen’s greatest threat.

In the 1790s, Britain was seriously threatened by the potential of domestic terrorism as radicals became inspired by the French Revolution. In response, British citizen’s rights to a fair trial and freedom from arrest without charge were withdrawn by the government under the Habeas Corpus Suspension Act of 1794.

This led to the imprisonment of individuals deemed dangerous without charge or sufficient evidence. In other words, this led to a breach of ‘human rights’, although universal legislation didn’t exist at such a time. Whilst to some it seemed necessary, most reflecting on the period view it as an era in which Britain abandoned the rule of law and neglected the fundamentals of our Liberal Democracy.

A more infamous (and recent) example of the suspension of civil rights was in 1933, in Germany.

The Reichstag Fire Decree and the Enabling Act of February and March were a response to the torching of the Reichstag, supposedly by a Dutch Communist, and were preventative measures against an alleged wave of incoming Communist terrorism and arson.

As in Britain, civil rights such as freedom from unfair arrest were suspended, and the rule of law was abandoned. This meant that the mass arrest of Jews, homosexuals and communists by Adolf Hitler was legal, since charges were not necessary for imprisonment. If the government deemed an individual a threat, they could simply arrest them and imprison them indefinitely.

So, Germany provides an example of how the desire for greater security can be misused if the wrong individual is in power. In both Britain and Germany, the press made the public feel that they were under threat of attack, leading to public support for such restrictive legislation. The same language used then is being used now by certain right-wing papers.

But how are either of these historical examples relevant to 21st Century Britain?

Well, in June 2017 Theresa May stated that she wanted counter-terrorism legislation and that “if our human rights laws get in the way of doing it, we will change the law”.

Since then, the threat of terrorism has only increased. After hearing Mark Rowley, the concurrent Chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council Counter-Terrorism Coordination Committee describe 2017 as “the most stressful year in my career” in mid- November, it would be no surprise if May was to follow through with her original plans.

More worryingly, Theresa May needs a big win for the government. A patriotic Thatcher-style ‘Us versus Them’ campaign might just increase her popularity, as the Falklands War did for the Conservatives in 1982.  Perhaps most concerning, since the UK’s constitution is not codified and therefore does not form ‘higher law’, all that is needed to repeal human rights is a majority in both Houses of Parliament.

Whilst the Tories don’t have a majority in the Commons, they do have the support of the DUP, a very conservative party that is more than likely to side with harsher restrictions than the principle that rights should not be trampled.

Yet on top of all this, just last month the anti-terror watchdog in Britain, Max Hill, has said that more legislation would be costly, damaging and an unnecessary extension of government power. Rather than the government accepting this, some ministers stated firm disagreement with Hill in the press, further suggesting legislation might come soon if more attacks occur.

It may be ridiculous to argue that tougher terror laws would lead to a sort of tyranny in which Theresa May and her cabinet would rule over Britain by arresting who they liked and detaining undesirable individuals. However, history clearly reveals that the suspension of rights for greater security should never be taken lightly or done as a knee-jerk response to a particularly awful attack. Suspending rights can rarely be necessary, but the public is easily manipulated into doing this when it is unnecessary. Similarly, suspending civil rights may be necessary there and then, but you can never predict who will come into government and abuse this power.

For those Conservatives keen to deport all immigrants who are being watched by security services or hoping for the internet to become even more monitored by the government, they must remember that the history of placing greater security over rights is dark and twisted.

Today’s anti-terror laws might be targeting radical Islamic terrorism, but it is entirely conceivable that the same laws could be used to persecute any group in society.

So, in a threatening world where there seem to be more and more attacks by individuals the government already knows about, it is important not to lose focus on the wider picture.  We must not forget that human rights are not simply ordinary laws. Rights have been hard won throughout history and many Liberals would argue that now more than ever, there is a need for principled politics.

Heads and Tails Always Fails

Why increasingly polarised politics is both ineffectual and dangerous:

‘Are you a Remainer or A Brexiteer?’

It’s normally the first question I am asked whenever I bring up politics. It’s usually followed with being asked if I’m a Tory or a Corbynista. Two important questions, but also questions that are simply too narrow. When did politics become so two sided?

Over the past couple of years, politics has become more polarized, leading to a series of arbitrary labels. In essence, members of the electorate now have to identify by one label or it’s alternative, with nothing in between. This change is best represented by the shock events of 2016 in which Trump became President and Britain decided to leave the EU. This was the decisive year in which the question of where you stood on particular issues and the political spectrum was simply replaced by a single polysyllabic word.

A Corbynista. A Brexiteer. A Remainer (or Remoaner for those out there who despise the remain vote). Even a Deplorable, for the thousands of American Conservatives who fully embrace the disparaging tagline that Hilary Clinton gave Trump supporters last year.

So, if politics has been reduced to ideological labels and principles have been strengthened, then surely a blog such as Principled Politics would fully embrace this change.

Yet the reality is rather different.

In politics, principles should be the guiding force behind people’s political persuasions. In particular, principled politics would be where politicians stick to their genuine beliefs and present their real convictions, rather than flip-flopping to public opinion for personal gain. Theresa May is the perfect example of an unprincipled politician.

She’s a Remainer and yet taking the country out of the EU, promised not to hold a snap election before doing exactly that in June 2017 and called for more grammar schools before axing the policy as soon as the general election was done. Make no mistakes, this writer would love more politicians to be principled and stick to their beliefs.

However, principled politics doesn’t mean a political climate in which there are only two fixed principles that can be held.

Politics and the political theory are far too complex to be reduced to the flip of a coin. When politics is reduced to such simplicity, the very interesting and important nature of political discourse is ruined and discarded.

For example, asking whether someone is a Corbynista or ‘not’ is such a narrow question when the political thought behind Corbynism is so broad. I certainly do not like many of Corbyn’s policies but to say I do not like Corbyn as a ‘people person’ or his apparent concern to reduce homelessness, the use of foodbanks and student debt would be a lie. So no, I’m not a Corbynista, but nor do I utterly reject everything that he stands for. In fact, I can see the appeal to the electorate and wouldn’t utterly rule out voting for him. Fundamentally, the term Corbynista and so many other terms like it are entirely flawed by being too simplistic.

Nonetheless, it is easy enough to see how some would refute this. Yes, simplifying politics to arbitrary labels might be a handicap, but fundamentally it’s simply getting upset over the phrasing of political discourse. Surely, at the end of the day, that’s not really going to affect many people?

Yet the reality is that this ‘black and white’ mentality, in which there are just two sides to everything has gone beyond just linguistics. This has caused genuine problems within politics. For example, in America numerous studies have proven that polarisation has massively risen, both in Congress and beyond. Those who identify as Democrats or Liberals simply can’t or don’t want to find any common ground with Republicans.

This is so extreme that the BBC recently reported on Conservative Move, a Texan real estate company that focusses on relocating Republican Californians into ‘red’ areas, namely Texas. Because politics is becoming simplified, labelled and polarised, the central idea of democracy, political discourse with those we oppose, is falling apart.

Even in Britain, the pervading idea amongst students is that Socialists shouldn’t listen to or co-operate with Tories, and that the EU’s Jean Claude Junker should be supported simply because he’s proving the Brexiteers in Britain wrong. In essence, labels are producing an Us v. Them mentality.

In Bristol, Socialist students are talking about ‘no platforming’ Jacob Rees-Mogg when he comes to speak in February, thereby denying him the ability to spread his ideas. This is simply because they identify as Socialists and therefore find the ideas of a strongly conservative Tory repulsive. Rather than attempting to engage with those on the other side of the political spectrum, people are embracing those who share their label and becoming intentionally ignorant of those who have chosen the antithesis.

For the sake of our democracy, it seems obvious that the polarisation and arbitrary labelling needs to end. The moderate middle ground needs to be recaptured so that real political debate and analysis can occur.

From a Leftie Remainer, who is a Europhile but not a Corbynista, it’s time to call it a day on political labels and engage in principled politics in a much more nuanced manner.