Pardoning the Suffragettes?

Pardoning the Suffragettes?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

The Fawcett society has recently called for the Suffragettes to be pardoned. Eloise debates whether this would be a fitting tribute or if instead it could serve to encourage politically motivated crime or even dismiss the great sacrifice they made.

Pardoning the Suffragettes?

picture from The Independent

Following recent pressure from the Fawcett Society, several leading politicians have been debating the possibility of pardoning the Suffragettes. Sam Smethers, chief executive of The Fawcett Society, argues that it would be a ‘fitting tribute’ as the Suffragettes made ‘such sacrifices’ during their campaign for equal franchise and ‘in any meaningful sense of the word, they are not criminals’. A criminal is simply defined by Oxford dictionaries as ‘a person who has committed a crime’. This therefore classes the Suffragettes as criminals, as the label and resultantly the law does not – however unjustly – take into consideration the necessity or reasoning of committing said crime.

On the one hand, it is undeniable that the Suffragettes committed a significant number of crimes during their campaign, totalling at over 1300 arrests for crimes such as arson and assault. A pardon has the potential to legitimise some of these extremities of violence – for instance the assault of Winston Churchill in 1909 despite his pro-suffrage vote, an example where it could be argued that the Suffragettes took the militancy of their movement too far, and perhaps encourage other modern day violent outbursts towards politicians. There is a general consensus that the political murder of MP Jo Cox was irrevocably wrong, and whilst the assault of Churchill undoubtedly pales in comparison to the atrocities that Cox faced, surely the physical attack of MPs (or any public figure) is something that should be discouraged across history – whatever the motive? This seems to be a sentiment shared by the Prime Minister – in her recent speech in Manchester she criticised the online abuse and intimidation that politicians today face, expressing her concern that ‘bitterness and aggression’ deters political engagement – or perhaps attracts the wrong form of engagement, and therefore excusing this behaviour allows the line of uncalled for attack and passionate protest to become blurred.

Despite this, pardoning the Suffragettes may be a simple way of honouring their memory for the centenary of the Representation of the People Act 1918 that first allowed women to vote by acknowledging the part they played in the campaign for the enfranchisement of women and the resultant advancement of society. Ruth Davidson, leader of the Scottish Conservative Party argues this case, suggesting in the Telegraph that the question of pardoning the Suffragettes is synonymous with ‘righting that wrong’. Arguably, the Suffragettes were treated wrongly, with the government resorting to cruel and inhumane methods (such as force feeding) – but perhaps an apology may be more appropriate than a pardon. A pardon seems to attempt to white-wash history, creating a cheap cover up and an easy way for political parties to forge a feminist façade. It dismisses the reality that women at the time felt they had to break the law to be acknowledged by the men in power, and the necessity of the Suffragettes’ militancy in securing women’s right to vote. Krista Cowman, a professor of History at the University of Lincoln, suggested that the Suffragettes would be ‘spinning in their graves’ at the idea of being pardoned, implying that perhaps they too would be angry at the proposed dismissal of the lengths of their sacrifices – ultimately what use would a clean criminal record be to them now, other than eliminating the cold proof of their efforts?

Helen Pankhurst (great-granddaughter to Emmeline Pankhurst and granddaughter to Sylvia Pankhurst) dismisses the debate by suggesting its irrelevance as the Suffragettes have already been pardoned by society. The respect the Suffragettes command from modern day society is evident. A statue of Alice Hawkins went up in Market Square, Leicester earlier this month partially as a result of her five-time imprisonment in aid of the cause, proving that the Suffragette legacy remains untarnished by criminal records and perhaps is even enhanced through their defiance of the law.  Helen Pankhurst further encourages women to ‘continue their fight’ rather than ‘dwell’ on personal sacrifice. Perhaps modern-day feminists ought to be emboldened rather than burdened by the Suffragettes’ struggle in order to strive for further equalities within society.

By Eloise Hall

No Franchise, No Problem – the Teenagers Running for State Governor

No Franchise, No Problem – the Teenagers Running for State Governor

Articles, Current Affairs

Over in Kansas, a group of teenagers have found a loophole in legislation that allows them to run for state governor. What could this mean for young people here in the UK?

No Franchise, No Problem – the Teenagers Running for State Governor

picture from VOA

An extraordinary situation has emerged in Kansas, wherein six teenage boys (and a dog) have decided to run for state governor, and thanks to a loophole in legislation, they are perfectly within their rights to do so. Well, all except Angus the dog, whose application was unfortunately, but admittedly fairly, denied by the Kansas secretary of state’s office. However, this unusual gubernatorial race is not exclusive to Kansas; Vermont also stipulates no minimum age to run for governor, which allowed 13 year old Ethan Sonneborn, a Democrat, to begin his bid for the state’s top office. So what is it about the current political climate that inspired three Republicans, two Democrats, an Independent, and a Libertarian, all of whom are 13 to 18, to run for governor in their respective states?

While these candidates clearly have their ideological differences, the one thing they have in common is the aim of using their campaigns to combat the so-called ‘crisis of political apathy’ amongst young people, and to push action for the issues most important to them. The latter is considered particularly important by 17 year old Republican candidate Tyler Ruzich, whose campaign has a strong focus on improving public education standards in Kansas; he told the NY Times they had become a ‘national embarrassment’. Indeed, it is understandable that many young people feel ignored by those in positions of political power; no wonder they appear ‘disengaged’ from politics when they are disregarded at every turn, and their voices are not being listened to. While it is unfair to say younger members of society are ‘apathetic’ towards politics, it is certainly true that many are reluctant to get involved, as they feel no matter what they do, nothing will change for them, because they are not able to vote and therefore have no say.

However, these candidates have a rare opportunity to drastically change how many young people view politics. Instead of seeing politicians they can’t identify with, and have no reason to believe will act in their best interest, they will see young people like themselves, standing up for issues that are a priority to the younger generation. This is likely to result in young people feeling more represented on the political stage; that there is someone ‘fighting their corner’, thus giving them hope that change is in fact possible.

Not only are they helping to empower other young people, but they are sending a crucial message about the power of their generation. They are refusing to accept the mischaracterisation of young people as lazy and apathetic, and despite not being able to vote, have found a clever alternative way of getting themselves heard. Their actions show they are capable of a high level of reasoning and political understanding, which compels older members of society to take notice, and take their concerns seriously. But could something like this happen in the UK? The short answer is probably not, as here there are clear rules that one must but at least 18 years of age in order to run for MP. Nevertheless, young Britons may still be inspired by the actions of their American counterparts; this could result in greater youth support for the growing ‘Votes at 16’ movement, which, if successful, would give young people the voice they deserve in politics.

Despite being perfectly satisfied with supporting a President who believes arming teachers with AK- 47s is the best solution to gun violence, many legislators in Kansas refuse to support the right of highly able candidates under 18 to run for state governor. Representative Blake Carpenter is championing the bill to impose age restrictions on entering the gubernatorial race, which was moved forward by the state’s House of Representatives at the beginning of this month. While it is likely the bill will pass, as most other US states already impose explicit age restrictions on running for governor, it will not take effect until next January, meaning that these younger candidates are still in with a chance of being elected.

So how realistic is this chance? Even the candidates themselves admit that their chances of actually winning the race are slim, with 16 year old Joseph Tutera telling the Washington Post, ‘The day a 17 year old wins governor of any state will be the day pigs fly’. Indeed, these candidates are in for a gruelling race against several seasoned politicians such as Kris Kobach and Jeff Colyer. However, it is important to acknowledge the unpredictability of elections – if the past two years have taught us anything, it’s that the results are never a forgone conclusion; it is more than worth keeping an open mind to the exciting possibility of the next governor of Kansas or Vermont being a young person. Regardless of the outcome, these strides towards a more empowered generation may in time prove to be invaluable, and they show just how essential it is that we acknowledge and value young voices.

By Alice Kenny

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Huge scandal regarding Oxfam’s sexual conduct has recently been the talk of the media, which has hugely damaged the image of the global charity. Katie discusses the potential consequence of these revelations on the aid sector.

Are recent allegations of sexual misconduct the beginning of the end for the aid sector?

picture from The TLS

In recent weeks the now highly published worldwide sexual misconduct scandal has infiltrated the aid sector. No longer is the public only hearing about how their government representatives, favourite film stars or powerful sports coaches have been perpetrators of some of the most violent sex crimes: our newspapers and televisions are now filled with reports of aid workers abusing their positions and exploiting the people they are supposed to be helping. The most high-profile of these accusations are those made against Oxfam, from allegations against international aid workers for hiring prostitutes to allegations of sexual harassment against both aid workers and charity shop workers. According to Oxfam GB’s chief executive Mark Goldring, in the last ten days twenty-six reports of sexual assault and harassment have been made, with sixteen of them reportedly against members of Oxfam’s international programme.

Glaring indiscretions and gross indecency by people working in the name of a well-respected and government supported charity such as Oxfam have sent shockwaves through the British public. It has resulted in many people raising the questions of whether we should ‘put our money where our mouths are’ and refrain from donating to Oxfam, or even more drastically whether this is the beginning of the end for global charities? In the last 11 days around 7,000 people have reportedly cancelled direct debits to Oxfam showing that for some members of the public the accusations against Oxfam workers and management, for their previous suppression and mishandling of allegations, have been too much for them to reconcile continuing donating to the charity. The motivations behind these 7,000 people rescinding promised money are clearly admirable and it is true that an effective way of forcing an organisation to improve their practise is by placing financial pressure on them. However, in this case, when the recipients of Oxfam’s ‘service’ are some of the most vulnerable men, women and children in the world withdrawing donations may cause more harm than good.

Whilst we must always remain aware of the terrible accusations against the charity, Oxfam is still doing some of the most commendable work of any leading aid organisation. They are currently operating four crisis appeals for the crises in Bangladesh, Syria, the Yemen and the Democratic Republic of Congo and for decades they have been working towards global empowerment of women and guaranteeing fair rights for workers. With this is mind and given that of every £1 donated to Oxfam 79p goes directly towards development and emergency work it cannot be denied that, at least in part, those who will suffer from reduced donations will be the people that Oxfam’s work aims to help.

Answering the question of whether this is a turning point for the charity sector is more difficult. There is definitely merit in the argument that for the last few years more people have been questioning the role of global charities as society has become increasingly aware of how the at times ‘white saviour’ nature of their agendas could be damaging to overall global development. This could mean that in the next few decades international charities such as Oxfam, Médecins Sans Frontières and UNICEF will become obsolete and make way for smaller, more ‘grass-roots’-based organisations. However, despite aid scepticism within certain sectors of the population, the majority of people’s opinions were not, until the last few weeks, against the mainstream charities. Following recent allegations of sexual misconduct this tide may change as people may begin to not only question the more subtle impacts of a western dominated aid sector but are now faced with the undeniable truths of, in places, a poorly controlled and morally corrupt industry.

The reality of the impact that recent allegations will have on both the power and popularity of the aid sector will only become clear as time wears on. However, the reports have undoubtedly led to a significant proportion of the country questioning their long-held faith in its integrity. If this is to be a watershed moment then the slow demise of the sector will, at least in the short term, have negative implications for the receivers of aid as millions of people’s lives and livelihoods depend on the work of international charities. In the long term this may be a revolutionary moment in which charities, and in fact all major organisations, are forced to either clean up their practise or face disintegration. No matter what the long-term consequences are, Vicky Browning, CEO of the Association of Chief Executives of Voluntary Organisations, is most certainly right in saying ‘After Oxfam, charities are no longer untouchable’.

By Katie Wharton

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

After his girlfriend’s racist messages about Meghan Markle went public, UKIP leader Henry Bolton was brought to trial by his own party earlier today, and lost the no confidence motion by 867 votes to 500.

Does the fall of Henry Bolton mean the fall of UKIP?

picture from The Times

Earlier today, UKIP members voted to sack yet another leader, this time Henry Bolton, after controversy over racist messages sent by his partner. He was elected in September following UKIP’s disastrous performance in last year’s general election, but his time in the role was short-lived. This has undoubtedly raised questions about the stability of the party, who are likely to see their sixth leader since the EU referendum less than two years ago.

The announcement that Prince Harry was to marry Meghan Markle was hugely popular, perhaps particularly popular amongst UKIP supporters who pride themselves on being patriotic. Thus, for a party that faces a constant struggle against accusations of racism, Jo Marney’s derogatory comments regarding Markle’s race were inflammatory to say the least. With UKIP being the face of Brexit and Brexiteers being demonised as racists, bigots and xenophobes amongst other titles, they have constantly fought to improve their image. Views such as those expressed by Marney were exactly the kind that the party sought to condemn, which led to calls for Bolton’s resignation, but the damage had already been done.

As more and more senior UKIP members came out against their leader following his girlfriend’s offensive comments, Bolton had struck back. “If the NEC (National Executive Committee) decides to go down the route of months of further infighting and further negative media scrutiny, by deciding to pass a vote of no confidence in me, then I think the reality is that the party is probably over” was his response. And yet infighting and negative media scrutiny was what he got. It seems difficult to make a case for Bolton remaining as leader of the party: perhaps his views were not reflected in the messages, but they had lost him a lot of trust amongst UKIP members and supporters. However, another leadership contest will be detrimental to the party, and there are concerns regarding who might replace him. Gerard Batten will take over as interim leader and there will be a leadership election within 90 days where we may see the return of the controversial Anne Marie Waters, founder of Shariah Watch UK, as a candidate.

Having thrived under Nigel Farage during their successful Brexit campaign, UKIP faces a battle for its very existence. Constantly criticised in the media and unable to produce a long-term leader, the party risks losing its credibility. For some, this is good news: many people view UKIP as genuinely racist and do not want them to have power, but this is not democratic. Having received over half a million votes in last year’s general election, the party’s policies clearly appeal to many people, and yet they will not vote for a party they believe to be unstable, or worse, racist. If this party disappears from mainstream politics, this restricts our democratic options as voters from some constituencies will face a choice of only Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and Labour. That some people will no longer be able to find a party that appeals to them goes against the UK’s democratic values and could be the very negative impact of Henry Bolton’s downfall. Many within UKIP have called for the return of Nigel Farage. Will he come to the party’s rescue once again?

By Lucy Higginbotham

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

Articles, Opinion

Walking through any city, it is clear to see that homelessness is a large-scale issue, but Katie highlights that this nationwide crisis goes far beyond what we can see, calling for more support for some of the most vulnerable in our society.

Homelessness: Every day of the year, not just at Christmas.

picture from Manchester Evening News

As winter is drawing to a close you may find that your charitable pockets are closing up and you are missing a New Years’ resolution to give more, whether that be giving time, money or food to people in greater need than yourself. Over Christmas thousands of Brits give money to many different charities tackling issues from cancer research to domestic violence and the refugee crisis, and one of the most popular causes to give to is the plight of homeless people in the UK. However, homelessness is not just a crisis over Christmas and with an estimated 307,000 people sleeping rough or accommodated in temporary housing such as hostels and further thousands suffering with ‘hidden homelessness’ there is lots more to be done. Hidden homelessness is a term used when a person has nowhere to live but is not recorded as requiring housing assistance. This means that all statistics used in this article and any articles or discussions on homelessness are significant underestimates.

People living homeless are often struggling with other issues as well as their homelessness and a survey conducted by Homeless Link found that 73% of their respondents reported having physical health problems, 39% have or are recovering from a drug problem and 27% have or are recovering from an alcohol dependency. Shockingly, 80% reported suffering with some form of mental health problem. These physical and mental barriers make it very difficult for homeless people to break out of the cycle and mean that they need multifaceted support to help them reintegrate back into society, rather than simply a roof over their head. Charities such as Shelter and Crisis tackle addiction and mental and physical health problems as a part of their work, with some clients offered access to counselling and practical support. The UK’s leading mental health charity Mind also recognises the link between mental health and homelessness and they focus on how improved mental health services could help many people to overcome their homelessness or housing difficulties.

Although rough sleeping is often the face of homelessness, in Britain it actually accounts for a small proportion of the homelessness figures in the UK. Living in temporary accommodation is the most common predicament of those recorded as homeless with 281,000 people living in hostels, bed and breakfasts and other temporary accommodation last year. Of those people approximately 128,000 are children. Many of these children are homeless alongside their families, potentially consisting of older siblings, parents and even grandparents, but other children are homeless on their own. Often these children have ‘made themselves homeless’ as they have faced physical, emotional or sexual abuse at home and are no longer safe to remain living with their families. In such cases local authorities often refuse to rehouse the homeless young person, as they theoretically have a place they can live. However, given the circumstances at home, that could not be further from the truth. It is essential that social services have enough resources to enable them to support these children and more emergency and long-term foster placements are needed across the UK to provide loving homes for children of all ages for whom homelessness has become a terrible consequence of a challenging family life.

Combatting homelessness in this country is undoubtedly complex as the struggles facing those recorded homeless vary significantly. In Manchester the problems are no different and Mayor Andy Burnham sees tackling homelessness as the most urgent thing on his agenda – no surprise given that in the past year homelessness in Manchester has severely spiked with 1 in 154 people in Manchester currently homeless in comparison with 1 in 266 in 2016. Burnham aims to end rough sleeping in the city by 2020 and has some specific plans for how to do this, including pressuring the NHS to ensure GPs provide treatment to homeless people when they need it, and opening up vacant properties owned by housing providers or the public sector. Carrying out these policies would go part way to solving the homelessness problem, but more financial and resource support is needed from the government in Westminster to tackle homelessness nationwide. In addition, incredible charities such as Shelter, Crisis and Centrepoint are always in need of increased generosity from both private and public donors. Charitable giving, whatever the cause, should not be confined to the festive season as all-year-round hundreds of thousands of Brits are in need of urgent support.

By Katie Wharton

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

The government is set to introduce its brand new Office for Students in April 2018 in an effort to improve young people’s education and increase their opportunities, but it’s already had a shaky start. This leads Alice to question whether it will actually succeed in helping young people or whether failure to meet its targets is inevitable.

The Office for Students – Doomed to Fail?

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Vickie Flores/LNP/REX (8971187y)
Toby Young, journalist arrives at BBC Broadcasting House
‘The Andrew Marr’ TV show, London, UK – 23 Jul 2017

Since the veritable disaster that was the appointment and subsequent resignation of Toby Young, the Department of Education’s new Office for Students (OfS) has faced considerable scrutiny over how well it will act on the issues that really matter to English students. While unsurprising, how legitimate are these concerns? Many stem from worries that the OfS will not address the financial hardship facing countless students, with issues ranging from the bureaucracy of the Student Loans Company being nearly impossible to navigate, to several cases of students not receiving student finance for a considerable length of time despite having already started their courses. It is not surprising that such problems with funding lead to students struggling to get by, let alone succeed in higher education.

Fortunately, chair of the OfS Sir Michael Barber seems prepared to tackle these issues, as is apparent in his piece outlining the priorities of the new body. Under the point entitled, ‘Engines of Opportunity’ Barber stresses the importance not just of getting more students from disadvantaged backgrounds attending university, but of enabling them to ‘succeed in higher education too’. Indeed, this would indicate a genuine dedication on Barber’s part to tackling the economic struggles facing students, as these are often of a particular detriment to students from low socioeconomic backgrounds. Furthermore, Barber is a highly experienced educationist with considerable expertise in delivering system change and reform, which arguably makes him the ideal person to chair the OfS.

However, it is also true that he has been widely criticised for an over fixation with targets, and for failure to make well-grounded observations from statistics during his tenure as head of Tony Blair’s Prime Minister Delivery Unit. Barber was heavily involved in the formulation and implementation of New Labour’s education policy, and came under fire from critics for disregarding a substantial amount of collected data in order to confirm the ‘success’ of said policies.

While it is important to acknowledge these shortcomings, complications within Blairite education policy were by no means the sole fault of Barber, and if there were indeed failings, these were first and foremost the responsibility of Tony Blair himself. So where does this leave us on Barber, and the impact he will have as chair of the OfS? Whilst we have established that he is by no means perfect, it is also fair to say that Barber has had the opportunity to learn from mistakes made during the Blair government, and in addition has displayed a strong readiness to put the best interests of students at the heart of the OfS.

Despite Barber’s apparent commitment to the cause, some still question how serious the government really are about the new office; these doubts are chiefly due to the Toby Young debacle. Indeed, the appointment of someone so unsuitable for the role does seem a questionable move for an organisation supposedly meant to ‘champion the interests of students’. But was this blunder an honest miscalculation, or does it point to a greater problem in the running of the OfS? To answer this, we must consider the reason for Young’s appointment; although passed off by many as yet another example of ‘Tory Cronyism’, it is in fact far more likely that Toby Young simply (pardon the Love Island vernacular) ‘looked good on paper’.

On the surface, he seems a sensible enough candidate; he has some experience in the field of education, having co-founded a free school and subsequently secured a place as director of the ‘New Schools Network’. This coupled with a first in PPE from Oxford, it is understandable how Young may have seemed like a rational appointment. Of course, this was not in fact the case, with Young’s comments comparing working class students to ‘stains’ and disabled people to ‘troglodytes’ being only the tip of the proverbial iceberg of reasons why he is ill-suited for the OfS.

So what does this tell us? While the accusations of ‘Tory Cronyism’ in this case are perhaps unjustified, the appointment of Toby Young is indicative of a massive failure in due diligence – even a brief perusal of his social media, or a slightly deeper examination of his character would have immediately thrown up red flags about his suitability for the position. We thus begin to question the commitment of the government to making this new office work; they evidently didn’t take the time to sufficiently vet all their appointments to the board, which suggests a distressing lack of dedication to the very students the OfS is allegedly set up to protect.

However, ending on a more optimistic note, while the disappointing decision to appoint Young points to several issues within the OfS, the new body is by no means a lost cause. The Office for Students could still have a positive impact on the lives of English students, thanks to the appointment of Sir Michael Barber as chair, and other board members such as Ruth Carlson (civil engineering student), who have exhibited a genuine commitment to upholding the purpose of the board. Nevertheless, the true test of the OfS will come with its official launch on April 1st, after which we will soon be able to establish the extent to which it will truly ‘champion the interests of students’.

By Alice Kenny

Women’s and Working-Class Suffrage: 100 Years On

Women’s and Working-Class Suffrage: 100 Years On

Articles

Today marks one hundred years since some women were granted the vote for the first time in the UK, along with 5.6 million men from working-class backgrounds. The 1918 extension of the franchise is arguably the greatest milestone in British democratic history, and so this article explains what it meant for British people and how its effects can still be seen today.

Women’s and Working-Class Suffrage: 100 Years On

picture from Evening Standard

One hundred years ago today, Britain passed the Representation of the People Act, which gave the vote to all men over 21 and to all women over the age of 30 years. This extension of the franchise was undoubtedly one of the most significant moment in British democratic history.

The Act itself meant the enfranchisement of 8.4 million women and 5.6 million men. Women were able to vote for the first time in Britain, the voting system no longer excluded the working classes and the size of the electorate tripled from the 7.7 million who had been entitled to vote in 1912 to 21.4 million by the end of 1918.

Yes, it did have its limitations. Crucially, the political rights of men and women were still not equal, with women not able to vote until the age of thirty compared with the male voting age of 21. On top of this, Britain still did not have a complete system of one person, one vote, with 7% of the population enjoying a plural vote. However, the significance of the Representation of the People Act of 1918 lies not only in the immediate changes it brought about, but also its role in progressing the suffrage movement.

As a result of the changes made in 1918, there were further changes made to our voting system in 1928 when the Equal Franchise Act was passed. As the name suggests, this Act gave equal voting rights to both men and women. In other words, the voting age for women was reduced to 21. This of course meant a growth in the size of the electorate, and the principle of equality is still a cornerstone of our democracy today.

But the importance of the 1918 extension of the franchise is not just limited to the figures on how many people were granted civil rights. Indeed, the sheer increase in the number of people who were enabled to vote by this Act, and the subsequent 1928 Act, whether it be directly or indirectly, is hugely significant. But enfranchising women and the working classes went far beyond the principle of more people having the right to vote: these were the groups who had been ignored for too long by those at the top. Having had little to no political influence up until this point, these groups were finally given a say in who governed them.

We saw the huge impact of giving working class people the vote when Britain saw its first Labour Prime Minister in 1924. The rise of the party is accredited to the enfranchisement of this section of society, which goes to show how different the political landscape was when everyone was given a voice. Working-class people and their support for the Labour party had been silenced, but now there was more pressure on all parties to consider issues such as workers’ rights more seriously.

Similarly, where there had previously been a huge bias towards men in government policy, parties could no longer ignore women’s needs without losing the support of a significant portion of the vote. This made Britain more democratic because not only did it give all people over the age of 21 an equal opportunity for influence regardless of class or gender, but it also held representatives accountable for their actions because if by failing to serve the interests of a certain group they risked losing favour in the next election.

The Representation of the People Act forced the government and politicians to take the concerns of around 14 million individuals seriously and treat them with the same respect and understanding that was shown to their upper and middle class male peers. One hundred years on, we have seen huge democratic progress in the UK which would not have been possible without this turning point in our history.

But do we have more to do? Over 1.5 million 16 and 17-year olds in the UK are still denied the vote, despite being able to get married, pay taxes and join the army. What about having a say in their education? Healthcare? These young people are affected by government policy as much as their 18-year-old peers. Should they not enjoy the same rights?

By Lucy Higginbotham

Gerrymandering in Northern Ireland?

Gerrymandering in Northern Ireland?

Articles, Current Affairs

The situation in Northern Ireland has always caused difficulty for the British Government, but with the less-that-ideal Conservatives-DUP alliance, could what appears to be a tactical manipulation of Northern Irish political boundaries be a step too far?

Gerrymandering in Northern Ireland?

picture from Belfast Telegraph

The Conservatives party were already disappointed not to win a majority in the 2017 general election, but since then there has been huge controversy surrounding the Conservatives’ alliance with the Democratic Unionist Party after a map detailing proposed new constituency boundaries for Northern Ireland was obtained by the Press Association. The new boundaries shown on the map, which hasn’t been confirmed as a final version, dramatically favour the DUP at the expense of Sinn Féin – a tactic known as gerrymandering. Surely this is not democratic?

The word democracy first emerged in the 5th century BC, created by the ancient Greeks to describe the system of government that emerged in multiple city states in Greece, most notably Athens. Not everybody knows of the roots of this word; the etymology of the word is not important. The concept represented by the word democracy, however, is universally understood, and people strive for it, people wish for it, and in the past, people have died to protect it for all of us today fortunate enough to possess it. This democratic process of choosing our leaders, along with right to free speech and right to due process, is the cornerstone of western civilisation. With democracy, we can all choose our leader and our representatives, and everyone has an equal say in choosing them. Sometimes, however, like in all systems, it doesn’t always work perfectly. In the case we’re going to talk about, it’s not that democracy is malfunctioning; it’s that democracy in this country is being sabotaged.

We’d like to think that we have power over our MPs. We elect them, and dismiss them at will. If what they and their party stand for pleases us, we elect or re-elect them, and if not we can simply elect someone else. By this mechanism the voting public has ultimate power over the representative; the representative can be held accountable to their actions, as we choose them. gerrymandering, however, is how the politician can shift the balance of power towards them, and instead of the voters choosing the politician, the politician chooses the voters. So how does gerrymandering work?

There are really two main Gerrymandering techniques, which are Cracking and Packing. Cracking is done by drawing districts in such a way to spread voters of one affiliation so thin that there is no one district in which they may win. Packing is to draw districts in order to bunch voters of the opposing affiliation into as few districts as possible, so their party can win overwhelming majorities in that district, but elect fewer representatives from their party overall than their voter numbers should; with packing, it is said that there are a lot of wasted votes. Often, the two techniques are used together to maximise their effect. But why is our government being accused of using these dodgy tactics?

Following the 2017 general election, the Conservatives released details of the new constituency boundaries that would exist in Northern Ireland after the Conservatives reduced the number of seats had been reduced from 18 to 17 (as part of the overall plan to reduce the number of UK seats from 650 to 600). The initial plans stated that the DUP would lose three seats and Sinn Féin would gain two, becoming Northern Ireland’s biggest party. Sinn Féin would have nine MPs, and the DUP just seven.

However, with the plans having been roundly criticised by the DUP in October 2017, the party called for “new and revised” boundary proposals. It seems that the Conservatives made changes to their plan, which were then leaked by the Boundary Commission for Northern Ireland during a website test. The Belfast Telegraph reported that “the changes now on the table would see the DUP still the biggest party at Westminster with 10 seats to Sinn Féin’s seven.” Sinn Féin responded to this by saying that any move by Conservatives to row back on proposed boundary changes would amount to gerrymandering to placate the DUP. Sinn Féin MP Francie Molloy warned that if the map was accurate it was “further evidence of the British Government’s ongoing refusal to act in an impartial manner as they are obliged to under the terms of the Good Friday agreement.”

This is a difficult position for the government: the situation in Northern Ireland is fragile. Do they stick to their original plans at the expense of the DUP, reduced their political power? Or do they go with the changed plans, which mean that the number of seats for the DUP and Sinn Féin remain as they were before (10 and 7 respectively)? There doesn’t seem to be a right answer, but what they do know is that with the Conservative-DUP deal already being said to threaten peace in Ireland, any attempt to alter Northern Ireland’s political boundaries for short-term political gain could have devastating, long-term repercussions.

By Lucy Higginbotham