It is reasonably common knowledge that there is a lack of understanding between different groups in society, whether that be decided by nationality, faith or some other factor, but how much are people really doing about it?
People Read What They Want to Hear
How often do you subconsciously choose to read something because you share the writer’s views? More than you think. Whether you’re a Tory reading the Daily Telegraph, or a Labour supporter reading The Guardian, we’re all guilty of it. In a society full of many different people each with a different set of beliefs and values, we need to be able to understand each other’s perspectives. But how can we do this if people are naturally inclined to only see the world through their own eyes, and the eyes of people they already agree with?
So how far do people actually go to avoid contrary viewpoints? In May this year, the Journal of Experimental Psychological Science carried out an experiment in the US to see exactly this. The way it worked was that the people involved in the experiment were presented with a choice of two articles reflecting different views on same-sex marriage. They were told that they could either read the article they agreed with and be entered for a $7 prize draw, or read the article they didn’t agree with and be entered for a $10 prize draw. Incredibly, 63% of the people chose to read the article they agreed with at the expense of the opportunity to win more money.
The experiment provides indisputable evidence that people are drawn to articles that match their own perspective, and we assume that this is because they are more self-affirming and comforting. An author of the study, Matt Motyl, referred to this as “motivated ignorance”. In other words, people regard the emotional comfort they could lose by being exposed to an alternative point of view as being of more value than the additional $3.
Bearing this in mind, is it any wonder that there are still huge divides in society with regards to race, sexuality and gender, just to name a few, when people are so narrow-minded in what they choose to read or learn about? How can we expect to see a change in people’s attitudes when the only attitudes they are familiar with are their own?
I feel that a lack of mutual understanding between different sections of society is a major problem that we all have a duty to try and overcome. We all ought to step away from the comfort of reading only news that reinforces our own views and instead try to learn more about other people’s.
Donald Trump has always been a controversial figure, and seems to pride himself on it. But has he gone too far in declaring Jerusalem the capital of Israel, taking sides in one of the most heated conflicts of the 20th and 21st centuries? Katie discusses the implications Trump’s rash comments could have regarding world politics.
Trump and the future of Jerusalem
For the last seventy years one of the most contentious and controversial issues in world politics has been the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and how to solve it. The majority of the western world believes in a two-state solution, where Israelis and Palestinians live alongside each other and share both the city of Jerusalem and the Temple Mount/Haram esh-Sharif which lies at its heart. Specifics of this two-sate solution are widely debated, with those who are pro Palestine believing in the following of the 1967 borders while those who are pro Israel feel the Israelis who have settled beyond those borders have the right to remain where they now live. Many diplomats, including United States Presidents, have attempted to negotiate a peaceful solution between the Prime Minister of Israel and the leader of the Palestinian Liberation Organisation, however such summits have been unsuccessful to date. These meetings have been hampered by consistent difficulty for the various leaders, as these have changed over the decades, to reach agreement on territory, Palestinian right to return, the legitimacy of Israeli settlements and the status of Jerusalem.
In early December 2017 President Trump recognised the city of Jerusalem as the capital of the state of Israel, which was a highly unprecedented move. This move has shocked the world as international law recognises Jerusalem as a divided city, with the west belonging to Israel and the east to the Palestinians. Currently the east of Jerusalem has been annexed by the Israelis, with many illegal settlements in the area and the sacred Temple Mount, home to the Al-Aqsa mosque, is controlled by the Israeli government. The situation in Jerusalem is therefore a very complicated one and while both Palestinians and Israelis see the city as their true capital, up until now, no leading world power has recognised the city as belonging entirely to either one of the two. It was therefore on this intricate and complex backdrop that Trump made his declaration that Jerusalem is the capital of Israel and that to demonstrate this he is planning to relocate the United States embassy to the city. On the surface this may not seem a very important action, especially since the rest of the world is showing no signs of following in America’s footsteps. However, the impact this will indefinitely have on the peace process in the region and on the likelihood the sides reaching a fair and mutually beneficial two-state solution can not be understated.
The status of Jerusalem is one of the most vehemently disagreed upon issues that is preventing peace from being reached and as a result Trump’s move is an incredibly ignorant and foolish one. It is such, because for a two-state solution to ever be agreed upon Jerusalem will have to be divided between the state of Israel and the state of Palestine, as neither will ever accept territory that does not include any of the holiest city in the world. Therefore, Trump’s declaration has plunged the issue into deeper darkness as recognising Jerusalem as belonging completely to the Israelis has suggested that compromising is not important and that ignoring the wishes and feelings of the Palestinian people is acceptable. Both of these suggestions hugely jeopardise achieving peace in the region as it is clear that compromise and respect for everyone is the only way that a two-state solution can ever be reached.
The impact the declaration will have on negotiating peace in the region is also hugely significant because of the message this sends about the status of the Israelis in comparison to the status of the Palestinians. Trump’s declaration suggests that the Israeli’s are the people who truly have the right to the holy land and suggests that the Palestinian’s are the imposters. This adds to what is already a drastically uneven conflict with the Israeli’s having large economic and military power and allegiance with the most powerful country in the world, whilst thousands of Palestinians are living in refugee camps with little food or running water and have stones as their greatest weapon. This disparity between the sides is a factor that has consistently obstructed peace as the Israel’s believe they can gain control over all the land of Palestine by the formation of illegal settlements and the use of brutal military force. This therefore means that the Israeli’s have little that is compelling them to reach any peaceful compromise with the Palestinians and in turn feel minimal pressure to reach a two-state solution. Trump’s declaration as furthered Israel’s perception that they are the most powerful side in the conflict and therefore will certainly slow down peace as it pushes the time when Israel is forced to truly address the grievances of the Palestinians further in the future. Therefore, it is clear that Trump’s declaration of Jerusalem as the capital city of Israel has negatively impacted the fight for peace in the region as it has made the sides even less equal and as a result less likely to leave any negotiating table with an agreement.
The relevance of the British monarchy has been questioned for many years, but will Brexit further reduce the political power and therefore usefulness of the royal family?Luca provides a balanced view of some of the arguments for and against the abolition of the monarchy.
Brexit Versus Monarchy?
The monarchy has been a fundamental part of the way the UK is governed since the Norman conquest in 1066, however its future is constantly being questioned today. Those in favour of its abolition argue that as the UK’s uncodified constitution (a constitution that is made up of rules that are found in a variety of sources, in the absence of a single legal document or written constitution) has evolved the need for a monarch has become somewhat obsolete. However, others defend the monarchy, arguing that, even if it is no longer useful politically, it offers economic benefits such as the revenue created by tourism, and is an important part of British culture.
The Queen, even now when the monarch’s power is greatly diminished, has roles in legislature, executive and judiciary branches of the state. However, these are all largely ceremonial and usually just involve her signing for confirmation. This in itself emphasises the lack of need for a monarch. The monarch’s loss of power can be traced back to constitutional documents such as the Magna Carta (1215) or the Bill of Rights (1791), and a popular argument is that monarchy contradicts the notion of democracy as it means the rule of a single supreme figure. Moreover, maintaining the monarchy costs tax payers 62 pence per annum on average which could be spent more effectively on public services such as the NHS.
On the other hand, the royal family generates a large income through tourism, for example attracting people to visit Buckingham Palace. According to Brand Finance, tourism revenue connected to the monarch and its heritage was valued at £535 million for 2015. Industry in the UK also benefits to a certain extent from what is known as “the Kate effect”. The royal family indirectly endorses clothing lines through fashion choices, particularly the Duchess of Cambridge but also Prince George.
Monarchy is also seen by many in the UK as the epitome of British culture, something which invokes a sense of belonging. In some ways, it is a reminder of our national identity, and many people look up to them as positive role models in our society. This of course works both ways as one could say it provides an identity so far removed from the reality of what life is like.
The arguments for and against monarchy have been ongoing for some time. However, this controversial debate may find itself being more widely talked about as we continue with Brexit negotiations. As the UK’s uncodified constitution evolves or is potentially even completely reworked by these changes, the royal family may see themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant. Could Brexit make the abolition of the monarch’s power necessary?
We often hear criticism of the American codified constitution, almost entirely written during the 18th century, as there is a strong case to be made that it is outdated – but what about our constitution? In this article, Joe argues that our political system requires reform and that it is letting down the younger generations.
Is the British constitution ready for the next generation?
The British constitution is an ancient, evolving system. The British parliament is sometimes referred to as: ‘the father of parliaments’, as it inspired the systems of almost all nations that aspire to democracy. This immense age however, also serves as the constitution’s greatest weakness. Its evolution is slow –painfully slow at the best of times- and when everything about our world is speeding up, this results in a build-up of political tensions, especially amongst the youth of the nation. The last major piece of constitutional reform took place nearly 20 years ago – and the world has changed a great deal since then.
Millennials have access to so much information that they are quickly becoming one of the most politically informed and engaged generations ever, and this trend is likely only to continue in the future. This is already having a massive impact on British politics. Many pundits labelled the surge in youth participation in the 2017 election the ‘YouthQuake’, a nickname that exemplifies the seismic nature of shifts occurring in the political views of the population.
The Prime Minister –through the help of whips and the promise of promotion to MPs – can wield almost unlimited political power, as they hold a majority in parliament, which is the source of sovereignty in the UK. For a generation with a massive range of new, bold political ideas, and the desire to play a much more active role in the governing of the country, this is simply not good enough.
The most recent case where this system has presented huge problems for British democracy was the implementation of the 2017 Brexit bill. British young people have a massive range of ideas about the future of this country, and the ways in which this country can be improved through the opportunities that Brexit presents us. The bill however, passed without amendment, exactly to the specification of Theresa May and her government. All petitions regarding Brexit from the public were also summarily ignored, any illusion that the public would be consulted on the process of Brexit being stripped away.
The British system relies entirely on simple majorities. This system is far from ideal, and far from the most democratic of possibilities. When you follow the will of a majority and disregard the ideas of the minority (especially when the majority is slim) you are disenfranchising a massive section of the population. When you split political groups into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, you are essentially labelling half of your population to be ‘losers’. How this can be regarded as healthy for a nation remains mysterious. John Stewart Mill labelled this problem the ‘tyranny of the majority’ as early as the 19th century, but the effects of such a tyranny have yet to be seriously considered.
The youth of the nation seems to consistently fall into the category of ‘losers’. When less than half the population have their ideas represented in government, and even then has no input into the process of governance for the next 5 years, it is clear that reform is needed. The reason the youth turned out so readily for Corbyn in 2017 was not free tuition (despite what many Conservatives would have us believe), but because he represented real change of a degree not seen for far too long.
When confronting the problem of over power government, a range of solutions presents themselves. The most total solution would be the establishment of a written constitution for the UK, which would allow not just the independence of parliament from the PM (and thus real parliamentary sovereignty), but also for the courts to hold government to account. In regards to the political ostracisation of nearly half of our population (and the youth in particular), the need for a new, proportional electoral system is obvious.
Under FPTP, the political ideas of the loser (no matter how valid) are almost totally ignored once the election is over. Many good ideas are therefore lost, and ideas that had been supported by massive sections of the population are abandoned. Coalition governments, on the other hand, require by their very nature a mixing of ideas. They allow for the best ideas from a number of parties to be turned into policy – improving the quality of governance. They also allow for a much larger section of the population to be represented in government, ending the disenfranchisement of a majority of the population. Coalition governments in the UK are not necessarily unstable. The coalition formed in 2010 survived and thrived until the 2015 general election, to be followed by a majority Conservative administration, that had fractured after only 2 years.
Our nation stands on the cusp of a massive political change, and our system must adapt faster than ever in order to survive. The next generation is politically active, interested and engaged, but they are not being presented with any opportunities to participate in governance due to the failures of our constitution. Discontent with the political system is beginning to manifest within the country, and will only lead to greater and more extreme political oscillations until the problem is finally rectified.
Despite his large base of supporters who voted for him in 2016, there is without a doubt a significant number of people who would like to see the controversial president Donald Trump removed from office. Many have fantasized about this, but could it become reality? In this article, Rowan discusses the possibility of Trump’s impeachment, and whether this would actually have the desired outcome for those who oppose him.
How to impeach Trump (and the dangers it could present)
Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America on 21st January 2017, and from 22nd January there were calls for his impeachment. On Wednesday 9th December, the first official step towards this goal was taken by Congressman Al Green, a Texan Democrat, when he attempted to force the first articles of impeachment against President Trump through Congress. This was despite the objections of the House Democrat leadership, who reportedly saw it as a ‘distraction in a Republican-controlled senate’, and almost all Democratic representatives in the house supported a motion to side-line the resolution, which passed 364 votes to 58, essentially stopping the resolution in its tracks with no hope of revival. After his move to impeach the president had failed, Congressman Green said that “this will not go down as a footnote in history” and that the vote in the house Was definitely “not a non-event”. Green had never expected the articles to pass and had not even lobbied for Wednesday’s debate, but his comments afterwards clearly show that he expects later attempts to be more serious and credible.
It is all well and good saying that future articles of impeachment will have to be more serious and credible in order to succeed where Wednesday’s resolution failed but how can this level of credibility be achieved by the Democrats hoping to oust Trump? Well, for myself at least, the answer to this can be found in the meaning of the word ‘impeachment’. To impeach a president quite simply means ‘to put a president on trial’. This makes it clear that impeachment has a serious legal context as well as a political one and Article II, Section 4 of the American Constitution states that: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanours.” The constitution makes it clear that impeachment is reserved for the most disgraceful and criminal acts committed in office and, quite frankly, Congressman Green’s justification did not meet this. As much as we may all agree with Al Green when he denounces Trump as a bigot and a man who demeans the office of US president, none of these are considered high crimes in the law of the USA and as such do not provide stable grounds upon which to submit articles of impeachment to the House.
It is entirely possible that the federal inquiry into suspected collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian State, led by Robert Mueller, could reveal evidence of impeachable conduct, even treason, by the President and if this does happen then Trump’s impeachment will be inevitable. However, this seems unlikely as the investigation is into the Trump administration and not President Trump himself. What could pose more of a direct threat to Donald Trump’s presidency is an investigation into the accusations of sexual harassment against the President made by several women. Following the resignation of Democrat Senator Al Franken over sexual harassment and assault claims, there have been renewed calls for an investigation into Trump over similar and more severe accusations of harassment and assault. Whilst such an investigation should be called for reasons other than potential impeachment, namely to make the truth known for the American people and provide justice for the women if the allegations are found to be true, if the Democrats really want to challenge Donald Trump’s presidency then those in Congress and the Senate should be making a greater push for an independent investigation into President Trump and the allegations as a whole.
Amongst the questions of how to achieve impeachment there also lies the following question. Should the Democrats truly be trying to impeach President Trump? Obviously, if either the federal inquiry into Russian collusion, or an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and assault committed by Donald Trump, reveal illegal and unethical behaviour by the President then of course the procedures of impeachment should be acted upon by the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, the American people should be wary. Waiting in the wings to take over from Donald Trump upon his resignation or removal from office is Mike Pence; an ultra-conservative Republican from Indiana, and the current Vice-president. What makes Pence so much more dangerous than Trump is that he is so much better than him. As a politician, as a negotiator and as a law maker, Mike Pence far surpasses the capabilities of Donald Trump solely because he has been in politics for far longer. He has been a part of the establishment of American politics for a while now, having previously been Governor of Indiana, and has the competencies and awareness that comes with that experience. It is totally foreseeable that, under a Pence administration, the USA could slip back into a society where people are marginalised and social issues are left to grow and fester. Just imagine, the policies and ideals of Trump and his administration, only presented by a credible and capable leader who can gain the political and popular support that they require to pass into law. If this is the future that faces a post-Trump America, can it be any wonder that the House Democrats are wary of impeachment.
On 12 September Australia began voting on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. This is the first time Australia has carried out a vote or survey entirely using postal voting (with only a handful of exceptions being made for those with extenuating circumstances such as being out of the country or if the person is visually impaired, in which case they were able to vote online). Questions have been raised about whether this method could replace the traditional way of voting at polling stations in the future. Is this something we should consider here in the UK?
Postal voting: one step forward, two steps back?
Currently in the UK people are expected to vote at their local polling station, and must specifically request if they want to receive their ballot paper in the mail. This works well for those who are busy, or those who are not in their constituency for whatever reason on polling day. But that doesn’t account for all those who don’t make it to the polling station. Surely there will be a correlation between those who cannot be bothered to go out and vote on the day and people who don’t bother to request postal voting forms?
If each eligible (registered) citizen in the UK began to automatically receive a ballot paper in the mail rather than having to register, this would, in theory, solve this problem and increase voter participation. UK voters would no longer have to drag themselves out to the polling stations in the miserable weather on polling day, and therefore people would not be losing anything, whether it be time, effort or the comfort of their own home, by voting. It would also mean that they would not be relied upon to register for postal voting forms in advance.
However, there is a strong argument that this approach might not increase voter turnout, but could in fact have the opposite effect (and that is before we consider the flaws in postal voting itself). We have established that if everyone voted by post, this would reduce what we might call the cost of voting, in other words why someone might be put off. But what about the benefits the individual gains by voting? What drives someone to vote in the first place?
From the point of view of the individual, choosing to vote is in fact fairly irrational. The chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. The only example of a significant election in the UK where someone won by a margin of only one vote was when Conservative MP Henry Duke maintained his seat in the House of Commons by getting 4777 votes to his opponent’s 4776. This is as far back as 1910, which demonstrates just how rare this situation is – surely a rational person, knowing this, would not vote purely on the basis that their vote would change the outcome of an election? And yet, we still vote. Why?
Another reason why people might vote is that we have been brought up to believe that voting is our civic duty, believing that it’s a good thing for society, even if it’s not so good for the individual, and so we feel guilty for not voting. Of course, this is a very morally correct approach, and indeed if everyone took this stance it would be good for society. Perhaps this is the motivation for a lot of voters. But it also leads us onto another reason why people are willing to go out of their way to vote at polling stations, which might not be true for voting by post.
Switzerland, in an attempt to reverse the consistent decline in voter participation across several elections, recently introduced the mail-in ballot. Of course, everyone expected that, now that voting had become so convenient, voter participation would increase substantially. But the exact opposite was true. Voter turnout decreased, especially in smaller cantons (the twenty-six state-like districts that make up Switzerland) and in the smaller communities within cantons. Why is this the case? Why would fewer people vote when the cost of doing so is lowered?
Patricia Funk, a social scientist, explained the outcome of this natural experiment, linking it back to the incentives behind voting. In Switzerland, just like in the UK, “there exists a fairly strong social norm that a good citizen should go to the polls,” Funk writes. “As long as poll-voting was the only option, there was an incentive (or pressure) to go to the polls only to be seen handing in the vote. The motivation could be hope for social esteem, benefits from being perceived as a co-operator or just the avoidance of informal sanctions.” In other words, people might not feel morally obliged to vote, but it is in their own interest to vote to improve or maintain how they are viewed by others.
While postal voting seems like a practical way of removing factors that would discourage people from voting, it also removes at least one factor that might encourage people to vote. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, introducing the mail-in ballot here in the UK would most likely lead to a drop in voter participation.
Our NHS, started in 1948 by Aneurin Bevan, has provided free healthcare for many and has been part of UK national pride for decades. However, some argue that it is not without its price. Today our NHS is in crisis. Limited funding and finite resources are overwhelming NHS services. Many have debated over the sustainability of the NHS today and questions such as whether privatization should occur are rising. Public opinion remains that if the NHS can be sustained, then the NHS should be sustained. But the question is, can it?
Sustaining The NHS: The Future
The NHS is facing a financial crisis and its services are being overstretched beyond limits. The budget allotted by the UK Government is inadequate. The NHS budget will only grow by a meagre 1.2 % from 2009/10 to 2020/21. According to the Office of Budget Responsibility, the rate of increase needed is 4% annually in order to keep up with Britain’s expanding and aging population. In 2016 the NHS had a record deficit, out of all 233 trusts, 66% had overspent their budget. In 2018, 48% of the trusts are still expected to remain in deficit.
Consequently, the NHS is having to compromise with its core principle of quality and excellence in patient care. The A&E waiting time is increasing, and it only worsens during winter pressure. During winter months, pressure only intensifies and the NHS faces record levels of demand due to winter-related illnesses. The target set for 95% of A&E patients to be seen within 4 hours was not met and only were 89.7% were seen in target time in October 2017.
To deal with high demand, other areas of the service are being re-organised. For example, the target to treat 92% of the patients in 18 weeks for non-urgent surgeries was dismissed in March 2017. Since February 2016 this has not been met and NHS data shows that 1 in 10 people were waiting longer than 18 weeks for their non-urgent surgeries like hip, knee and cataract operations. NHS chief, Simon Stevens saw this move as a “trade-off” in an effort to improve hitting A&E and Cancer treatment targets. Despite the efforts, the 62-day target for cancer was breached and the A&E target is still yet to be met. In addition, the staffing crisis is further undermining the performance of the NHS. Although numbers of doctors and nurses are increasing (0.5% per year), the A&E has seen an exponential rise in patient numbers and has reported treating more patients than ever before.
Despite all these issues, the NHS is still ranked as the most efficient healthcare system of the 11 wealthy countries by the commonwealth fund. Public satisfaction with ‘how the NHS runs nowadays’ was 63 % (King’s fund survey 2017) and inpatient satisfaction was 62% (CQC 2016). It is noteworthy that the much-valued NHS principles founded by Aneurin Bevan are still as relevant today as they were when the NHS was first founded: that the NHS is still free at the point of delivery and is still based on clinical needs rather than the ability to pay.
There are still tough decisions ahead. The NHS is considered a representation of our core British values; it is considered as an asset for the country by the House of Lords and by the people. Therefore, the government needs to take more action. Thorough consideration should be given to certain solutions such as privatization, while solving the problem of the quality of care; it leaves thousands unable to access it. While making the NHS only free to those unable to access it raises questions about differences in standards maintained in care given. Leaving the NHS in its current state will only leave conditions to deteriorate. In the words of the House of Lords, “Is the NHS sustainable …? Yes, it is. Is it sustainable as it is today? No, it is not. Things need to change.”
Following the launch of a review led by the Prime Minister’s national security, the defence cuts that have taken place over the past few months have been under immense scrutiny. In this article, Ben criticises the government’s organisation and lack of funding regarding the military, and discusses some of its implications.
The Government- Britain’s Brighter Future or Greatest Threat?
Conflict, instability and uncertainty. These things plague not just the United Kingdom but the rest of the world too. Tensions are on the rise between the world’s superpowers and one only has to glance at a newspaper to see this. In the Far East, the ongoing disputes between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have brought us closer to Nuclear War since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Closer to home, only months have passed since Russia seemed to be on the brink of launching an invasion into Eastern Europe. Furthermore, various events have shaken the country, with tragic terrorist attacks occurring on home soil, both in Manchester and London. With the world in a state like this, it would seem obvious that the government give special attention to the nation’s security and armed forces – right?
In reality, this is far from the case. Since coming to office in 2010, the conservative government has made budget cut after budget cut, crippling our once illustrious armed forces. What was once one of the world’s most respected fighting forces has been turned into a laughing stock and a far cry from what it needs to be to ensure the country’s security.
The government currently claims to be “committed to spending 2% of Britain’s G.D.P on defence”. However, it has become apparent that this is simply not the case, and as a result the armed forces is being starved of the equipment it needs. This 2% may be the result of clever accounting which, while very clever on a financial level, is not clever from a security point of view.
The numbers are staggering. In 2010 the army’s total manpower (active servicemen and women) stood at roughly 102,000. Now, after 7 years of Conservative government, this number has dropped to beneath 80,000. But it isn’t just the army’s numbers that have suffered. The number of total military personnel (across all branches of the armed forces) currently stands at around 141,260, even though the official personnel requirement is 147,000.
But why is this? Why are the numbers for the armed forces so embarrassingly low? Speaking to the Mirror on the 7th of May this year, Labour MP Dan Jarvis (ex-British Army Major who saw action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland) has slammed the Conservatives’ treatment of the armed forces, labelling this as the cause. He says, “Thousands of highly experienced war veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are leaving (the armed forces) earlier than they would have done because they see no future under the Tory Party”. Although some bias is to be expected from a Labour MP’s criticism on the Tories, further research would appear to confirm this statement.
Whilst researching the topic, I came across a Facebook page titled “Fill Your Boots”. The page, as of the time of writing this article, has 132,862 “likes”, most coming from active and ex-servicemen. Run by Alfie Usher, a former paratrooper (one of the British army’s most elite units), the page focuses on satire directed towards the armed forces. Although Mr Usher was unable to comment on the state of the armed forces under the Tory government, a simple scan down the page told me all I needed to know. Many of his uploads slated the current, poor state of the British Army, with countless fellow servicemen commenting in agreement, all suggesting that the army was, quite simply, a shambles, and that costs are being cut wherever possible, often at the expense of those serving.
Mr Jarvis MP continues to criticise the government’s treatment of the armed forces saying, “(Tory MPs) should be embarrassed by the damage their party has done to our armed forces…Britain’s defences under Tory leadership are almost unrecognisable to how they were left by the last Labour government”. Unfortunately, Mr Jarvis’ criticisms extend beyond just the lack of personnel. The budget cuts have left the services desperately short of equipment. For example, in 1990, Britain had a total of 1198 tanks, essential pieces of equipment for a modern army. In 2015, this had dropped to only 242, a fraction of what it had been before. In 1992, Britain had a 411 active military aircraft. Now, this number stands at 207, almost half of what it had been. Finally, in 1975, the Royal Navy consisted of 70 destroyers and frigates (fighting vessels). By 2015 this had dropped to just 19. Of course, these dramatic drops in numbers cannot all be blamed on the Conservative party as cuts still occurred under governments before. Indeed with the recession in 2010 it was only natural savings would need to be made elsewhere. However, the current and previous government certainly contributed to this decay and has shown no sign of improving the situation. In their first year in office (2010), the Government scrapped almost £4 billion worth of submarine-hunting aircraft, only to then ask for Canada, the U.S and France to lend them the same type of aircraft when a Russian submarine sailed into British waters. Although it may be just one small example, it highlights the severity of the issue and how serious the situation could potentially become.
To conclude, the Conservative government has left Britain’s armed forces desperately underfunded, leaving us under protected, and those who have been dedicated to serving our country underpaid and without enough support. In a survey conducted by the Express which saw over 2,100 responses, 95% of people agreed that the armed forces have been poorly treated and that more funding should be provided for them. In other words, 95% of people agree that Britain’s capability to defend itself is being sold away by a reckless government, who believe profit is more important than national security.
35 years ago, the United Kingdom went to war with Argentina after their invasion of the British Falkland Isles. 33 years ago, we triumphed over our aggressors, and thanks to our superior armed forces, the Falklands had been recaptured and Argentina had surrendered. Today, we would be powerless to stop them, should they invade once more.
The issue of identity politics has become a highly contested battleground over the past few years. It has always been a target of criticism from conservative politicians and commentators, however an increasing number of voices from within the left have begun to question this concept which has dominated mainstream liberal and leftist discourse for nearly two decades. Traditional class-based politics with an economic rather than social focus seem to have made a comeback, championed by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders across the Atlantic, and the argument that the left needs to move beyond identity issues to cope with the new political landscape has been gaining traction in both the UK and US.
Should the Left Move Beyond Identity Politics?
Given that much of this debate has centred on the political culture in universities and colleges, this is an issue that directly affects young people all over the UK, and indeed all over the world. It is therefore important to understand the origins and nature of Identity politics, and examine its impact on both the left and the right. This is also an issue that has become increasingly difficult to understand as it is mired in confusing terminology and misrepresented arguments, so we should firstly define what the issue is.
Broadly, the term “identity politics” refers to a form of politics that focuses on the interests of social groups based on their identity as members of a particular race, gender, or ethnic group. There is, of course, nothing new about this as a concept – politicians have appealed to peoples’ sense of belonging and identity for as long as politics has existed. What is different about modern liberal identity politics is that its focus on oppressed minorities and social justice, which can be traced back to the radical movements that were active during the 20th century – socialism, feminism, LGBT rights, black rights, the labour movement, and the anti-war movement. These movements had mainly been a united left-wing front for most of that century, and found their way into the mainstream through the Labour Party. Following the extensive liberal reforms under Harold Wilson, which included a ban on racial discrimination in 1965 and the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, social liberalism became more and more mainstream. This was further amplified by events in the US, such as the success of the Black Civil Rights movement.
When the pendulum swung to the right and the Reagan-Thatcher era began, the left faced somewhat of a crisis, and what followed was a move by the Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK to the centre in terms of economic policy while fully embracing liberal identity politics. As a result, the left-wing base shifted from the unionized working class, which had traditionally been its main source of support, to middle class metropolitan liberals. Although this move allowed Labour to gain power in the 1997 elections, it shifted the party’s ideological foundation to a much weaker one and alienated many of its supporters.
Now that the Labour Party has been in opposition for seven years, and Jeremy Corbyn has been its leader for two years, it seems that traditional economic leftism is returning to the party, despite much resistance. A significant part of this resistance has been based on the idea that it is somehow incompatible with liberal identity politics – indeed, Corbyn has repeatedly been accused of misogyny, and condemned for not taking action to combat online abuse directed at women. This pattern was echoed to a great extent in the US, as the main line of attack used by the Clinton campaign against Bernie Sanders was that he and his supporters were sexist. This, of course, completely ignores the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s economic platform was almost as far to the right as the Republicans, which put off many young Democrats from supporting her.
However, one would be hard-pressed to find supporters of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders that are actually sexist, excluding the online trolls who exist only to post inflammatory content and generate controversy. This isn’t to say that sexism within the left isn’t an issue, but essentially, no one on the left is arguing that we should abandon the fight for minority rights or gender equality. No one disputes the importance of social equality and justice. Rather, the problem is the way in which social issues have superseded actual policymaking and economic issues, and how much of political discourse, especially among the youth, has become saturated with platitudes about multiculturalism and side-tracked by arguments over fringe issues such as gender-neutral pronouns, while issues that affect the majority of people to a much larger extent, such as stagnating wages, are ignored. This was especially highlighted by the failure of the Remain campaign, which had placed a strong emphasis on attacking the racist elements of the Leave campaign but ultimately failed to address the predominantly economic concerns of people in the lower income brackets.
Furthermore, a troubling knee-jerk response to Brexit by many on the left was to criticise people of lower income and working-class backgrounds who voted Leave using sweeping generalisations such as labelling them racist.
Closer examination of Brexit also reveals a crucial flaw in the use of liberal identity politics as a political strategy – the right, especially the far-right, has always been better at using identity politics than the left will ever be. The right was quick to capitalise on all the weaknesses of liberal discourse, and by linking social issues such as immigration to the economy, was able to gain support from large sections of the working class. Another example of this is the now-widespread opposition to ‘political correctness’, which has become a rallying cry for many people all over the political spectrum even including moderates who fear that the left’s supposed obsession with controlling offensive language threatens freedom of speech. Regardless of how much this rallying cry depends on an exaggerated and caricatured version of ‘political correctness’, it is very effective. The implications of all this are clear: the left abandoned its roots, and has suffered for it.
The key to ‘moving beyond’ identity politics is to understand that people’s political interests are never limited to one factor, and that representing the interests of working class people doesn’t have to come at the expense of the interests of minorities. There is nothing wrong with focusing on specific issues that affect only a small number of people – it is in fact essential to do so sometimes – but it must not keep us from engaging with and understanding the bigger picture.
So where does this lead? Ideally, the revival of traditional leftism, as represented by Corbyn, Sanders, and others like them, will help guide the modern left towards to a form of politics better suited to facing the challenges of today – one that can represent the interests of working communities, the youth, and minorities in a more holistic and effective manner.
We have all seen in the news the final stages of the dramatic downfall of Zimbabwe’s corrupt leader of thirty years, Robert Mugabe. But how many of us really know anything about this country’s years of strife, and what led to this moment? Katie succeeds in helping us to understand the rise and fall of this infamous ruler.
Mugabe and the Suffering of Zimbabwe
Zimbabwe is a nation with a complex and rich history, haunted by both the cruelty of British Colonial rule and now by 37 years at the hands of authoritarian leader Robert Mugabe. Mugabe rose to power as Prime Minister of Zimbabwe from 1980 until 1987 and has been the President from 1987 until his resignation last week on the 21st of November. Although he gained political office in 1980 Mugabe’s influence in Zimbabwe was significant for many decades before that, due to his involvement in African nationalist protests, his imprisonment from 1964-1974 and his leading of the military wing of the Zimbabwe African National Union (ZANU), later the ZANU- PF (Patriotic Front) party during the Rhodesian Bush War. Mugabe is a highly controversial figure, dividing public opinion in both Zimbabwe and all around the globe. As one writer for The Black Scholar journal concluded ‘depending on who you listen to … Mugabe is either one of the world’s great tyrants or a fearless nationalist who has incurred the wrath of the West.’
Robert Gabriel Mugabe was born on 22nd of February 1924 and spent his formative years with his five siblings in Southern Rhodesia’s Zvimba District. Mugabe excelled academically whilst at school but he was a rather quiet and solitary pupil which led to him being frequently taunted by his class mates. This didn’t prevent him from succeeding and in 1949 he enrolled into the University of Fort Hare in South Africa. It was there that Mugabe’s involvement in politics began as he attended African nationalist meetings, joined to African National Congress and there was introduced to Marxist ideas. During this period he was also heavily influenced by the actions of Mahatma Gandhi in the Indian Independence movement and Mugabe has personally described his time at Fort Hare University as the ‘turning point’ in his life. Following this ‘turning point’ Mugabe became involved in the feud between ZANU and Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU) and simultaneously one of the most influential figures in the fight against white minority rule in Southern Rhodesia. This involvement then led to his arrest in 1964 and his subsequent imprisonment for the following ten years.
Mugabe started his revolutionary activity in 1960, actions which all in modern day Zimbabwe would say began the freeing of the nation from the clasp of the British empire and the tyrannical Rhodesian Prime Minister Ian Smith. Despite this, some Zimbabwean’s now feel that what followed was of no superiority and that Robert Mugabe brought suffering and pain to the people with his government’s failed economic policies and deep rooted corruption. On the other hand, some Zimbabwean’s argue that though the situation in the country is not perfect it is a great improvement on before as the country is no longer ruled by the white minority and instead has been ruled for the last 37 years by a member of its largest ethnic group, the Shona. This is not an insignificant argument and it shouldn’t be dismissed. Although, it is easy for the West and particularly Britain to hold on to the notion that our colonisation of areas of Africa ultimately had positive impacts, this is a very Anglocentric view and in reality the history books show that it was the inhumane and dictatorial nature off colonial rule that crippled the continent. This was no different in Southern Rhodesia and during their younger days of disillusionment with the leadership of the country Mugabe and his revolutionary allies can be more easily sympathised with.
However, this is only one element of Mugabe’s and Zimbabwe’s complicated history. Even in his early days as the ZANU’s general and publicity secretary Mugabe supported aggressive violence against the white minority in order to overthrow them from power. Although on the one hand this seems reasonable as native Rhodesian’s had suffered at the hands of white colonists for decades it sadly says less about the frustration of the people and more about Mugabe’s individual character. His antagonistic and violent nature was not just present during his time as a guerrilla fighter but continued into his Presidency as he encouraged angry mobs to invade and forcefully occupy white owned land, deployed his ‘war veterans’ to carry out violent attacks on supporters of his opponent in the 2008 Zimbabwe presidential election and most disturbingly he turned a blind eye to the 27 murders, 27 rapes, 2466 assaults, and 617 abductions that were carried out by ZANU-PF supporters during the 2000 parliamentary elections. Not only did Mugabe show his anger during his presidency but the characteristics that he overwhelmingly displayed were his lack of empathy and hunger for power.
During Mugabe’s presidency Zimbabwe’s economy dramatically deteriorated with peak hyperinflation in 2008 reaching 100,000%, leading to the collapse of the Zimbabwean dollar. Alongside this came unemployment of around 80% which meant that 75% of Zimbabwe’s population was relying on food aid, the highest proportion of any country at that time. This also negatively affected other sectors, with only 20% of children attending school, increasing cholera and HIV/AIDS rates and a rise in poaching driven by the people’s desperation. Meanwhile, Mugabe and his family, most notably is wife Grace, showed off their lavish lifestyle spending money on feasts, elaborate homes and clothes. This created much resentment from the Zimbabwean people with their hatred for Robert and Grace Mugabe intensifying.
Mugabe showed himself to be power obsessed throughout his presidency as he clung onto his position for 37 years despite mounting opposition. When Mugabe received 4.7% less of the 2008 presidential vote than his rival from Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) instead of accepting defeat he ordered violent attacks on MDC supporters resulting in 153 deaths and many gang rapes perpetrated by ZANU-PF supporters. Not only was Robert Mugabe power thirsty it was also evident that his wife Grace was too. She was wildly unpopular with the Zimbabwean people and in recent months they began to fear that Robert Mugabe was preparing to pass on his presidency to her. Therefore, it was after 37 years of tyranny from one person and with the prospect of another 37 years of tyranny from his equally abhorrent wife that the military held a coup d’tat which lead to Mugabe’s resignation. However, though many hope that Zimbabwe will become a free and democratic nation this is sadly highly unlikely. The people have spent century’s being oppressed, at first by a racist white minority and then by an authoritarian dictator of their own. Regrettably, the future for Zimbabwe looks bleak as though one day change will come it is easy to see how that day is incredibly far in the distance.