China’s Social Credit System- Is science fiction becoming science fact?

China’s Social Credit System- Is science fiction becoming science fact?

Articles, Current Affairs

Black Mirror-fan, Jack, draws disturbing parallels between the show and China’s new social credit system. How concerned should we be about this new interventionist scheme being implemented by the Chinese government?

China’s Social Credit System- Is science fiction becoming science fact?

picture from The Independent.

Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror is a television show after my own heart. The combination of dystopia and science fiction harkens back to similar works such as The Twilight Zone, and the keen analysis of the darker side of potential technology helps showcase our dependency on our smart devices. Indeed, it has been previously described as being about “the way we might be living in 10 minutes if we’re clumsy.” Now it appears those 10 minutes may nearly be up. The season 3 episode entitled Nosedive imagines a society in which every social interaction a person has can be rated out of five stars by the other people involved. This affects the person’s individual rating, which has significant influence on their socioeconomic status and place within the society. Examples of this include the fact that certain houses, transport and medical treatment are reserved exclusively for people of a high enough rating.

While this episode was undoubtedly only meant to critique the importance we place on what others think of us online, it has been frequently compared to a new mandatory scheme that is slowly being put into place by the Chinese government. The Social Credit system, which began to be put in place in 2014 and is supposed to be fully implemented by 2020, is designed to use mass surveillance to assign a rating to every citizen in order to control their behaviour. It is supposedly based upon the principle that “keeping trust is glorious and breaking trust is disgraceful” and is currently being orchestrated largely through private tech companies which hold people’s personal data. The score itself is said to be influenced by the actions that you take, including financial decisions, views expressed on social media (especially those related to politics) and traffic violations. For example, paying back loans on time would increase your rating whereas bad driving would lower it.

This may seem inconsequential, but the real danger comes from the penalties that are imposed on those with a low score. For example, their travel options can be restricted, including some 9 million people who have already been barred from domestic flights and 3 million who have been prevented from buying business class train tickets. Other restrictions will supposedly include slower internet speeds, more limited opportunities in higher education and careers and the inability to apply for credit cards/loans. There is clearly strong evidence here for the comparison to Nosedive, but the key difference is that in China it is the government that determines what is considered right and wrong rather than other people, which gives it huge powers to control the lives of individuals. This system could easily be as far reaching in its scale and effects as it is chillingly Orwellian in nature.
The move to the Social Credit system follows a political trend for China of tightening control over their own domestic affairs. Another example is that by 2016 spending on internal security had eclipsed spending on external defence by 13% and in February of this year China’s Xinjiang province revealed that its spending on domestic security had increased by an astounding 92.8% since 2016. This is in conjunction with the recent amendment to the Chinese constitution in March of this year, which served to remove term limits for the president Xi Jinping. This unprecedented entrenchment of power undoubtedly places him as China’s most powerful leader since Mao, and alongside the Social Credit system, it paints an unnerving picture for the future of the world’s second largest economy. To put it another way, the situation of an authoritarian leader who has entrenched himself in power seemingly indefinitely, and who will be in full control of the most far reaching and potentially oppressive mass surveillance programme in world history, seems to pose clear threats to the human rights of the 1.3 billion people of China.

As stated before, it is not an entirely accurate comparison between the situation in China and that of Nosedive, with the key difference being that in this instance all the power is in the hands of the Chinese government, making the implications ever more frightening. Yet, the important word here is implications. Even though there have been usages of this system to punish people so far, it is still not as pervasive and developed as the scenario displayed in Black Mirror, due mainly to the fact that the Social Credit system is not fully completed. Therefore, it does not seem at this stage that the comparisons to dystopian science fiction can be fully justified. However, in the wake of the scandal regarding Facebook and Cambridge Analytica, it is important for us all to recognise that it is easier than ever for corporate and state organisations to gather and process data about each and every one of us. Whilst we shouldn’t write off technology, the message from both the Social Credit system and Nosedive seems to be that we should take a careful and cautious about the personal information we choose to hand over, lest it bring with it negative consequences for us all.

By Jack Walker

What does the recent ‘Windrush’ controversy show about Britain?

What does the recent ‘Windrush’ controversy show about Britain?

Articles, Current Affairs

Katie explains the scandal surrounding the recent treatment of British immigrants of the Windrush generation, and why it has led to mass criticism and ultimately the resignation of Home Secretary Amber Rudd.

What does the recent ‘Windrush’ controversy show about Britain?

picture from Express.

In the past weeks we have seen the most recent of the government’s crises play out, as it has been exposed that the children of ‘Windrush’ migrants who arrived before 1973 could face deportation if they can not prove their right to live in the UK. Alongside this there are many reported cases of members of the ‘Windrush’ generation being subject to societal negligence, from loss of legitimate employment to being refused access to radiotherapy, due to their inability to prove their residence. This controversy has exposed holes in the Conservative Party’s management of immigration statistics and information and was certainly the cause of ex Home Secretary Amber Rudd’s resignation. However, not only has it exposed holes in our political system, the tragedy of the treatment of ‘Windrush’ migrants and their descendants, the majority of whom are of Afro-Caribbean descent, has raised the pressing issue of the racism and prejudice that still exists in Britain.

The ‘Windrush’ generation refers to people of Caribbean heritage who arrived in the UK between 1948 and 1971, often following the call for labourers to aid in British government plans to rebuild infrastructure after the Second World War. The term ‘Windrush’ originates from the name of the MV Empire Windrush which arrived here in June 1948. New immigration laws introduced in 2012 require people to have documentation to work, rent a property or access benefits, including healthcare, has left people fearful about their status. This is because in 1971 when all Commonwealth citizens living in the UK were given indefinite leave to remain, by the Immigration Act, The Home Office did not issue any documents confirming this. The result is there are thousands of people living in Britain who, despite complete legal right to be here, have no documentation to prove this. Even though the facts point to this being a problem that the government has the responsibility to solve and that the people living in the UK without this documentation should suffer as little as possible, for some reason, despite this being 2018, this has not happened.

There are significant numbers of horror stories of people of the ‘Windrush’ generation being racially discriminated against and their lack of documentation being used as an excuse. Londoner Sylvester Marshall, who has lived in the UK for 44 years, was asked to pay £54,000 upfront for radiotherapy treatment for his prostate cancer. Even though many representatives of the NHS have condemned this handling of Mr Marshall’s cancer care and the nine year delay of his treatment has been described as “morally indefensible” by Dr Chaand Nagpaul, the BMA council chair, the question still begs of how did something like this happen? There is definitely a substantiated argument that systematic and institutional levels of racism have contributed to the grave mistreatment of ‘Windrush’ migrants and that the recent controversy has simply shone a light on the ugly side of Britain. The misconception that ‘Britishness’ equals ‘whiteness’ has fed into a administrative problem and turned it into one that demonstrates the depth and breadth of racism in this country.

To answer the question of what the ‘Windrush’ controversy shows about Britain, maybe it is that beliefs about what Britain is are varied and complex and that whilst some people are deluded enough to believe that racism no longer exists, it is clear that many ‘Brits’ still reinforce racial stereotypes and make vast assumptions based on racial identity. Those of the ‘Windrush’ generation have been victims of this evidently racist society, as despite many coming here to rebuild this country their ‘Britishness’ is being questioned and their access to services which their tax has helped pay for is being denied. In the wake of the 25th Anniversary of the murder of Stephen Lawrence we must ask how far Britain has come since five white men were not even tried for the murder of an eighteen year old black man that they had all undoubtedly committed. Surely we would hope that Britain has learnt from past mistakes and that now justice would be served? However, I wonder if Sylvester Marshall would have so much faith in the justice system or even in his fellow ‘Brits’?

Looking forward, there is surely no choice but to try and be hopeful. We must have hope that the plight of the ‘Windrush’ generation will not be in vain and that more and more people will become ‘woke’ to issues of racial identity, discrimination and the experiences of ethnic, religious and cultural ‘minorities’. Only time will tell how quickly progress will be made, how many months or years it is needed for ‘Brits’ across the country to open their eyes to the existence of racism, in our police, schools and media. Let’s make sure it is sooner rather than later that being ‘British’ can truly mean anything.

By Katie Wharton

Is this the second Cold War?

Is this the second Cold War?

Articles, Current Affairs

Tensions are rising between Russia and the West, and so naturally people have started to draw parallels between the current international political climate and that during the Cold War. In this article, Eloise highlights some of the similarities and differences between the two situations, and raises the question of whether calling this “the second Cold War” is simply a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Is this the second Cold War?

picture from Newshub.

Tensions between the West and Russia are undeniably rising, reaching new heights with the recent attack in Salisbury – but has the situation returned to the extent of a second Cold War? The similarities that are emerging between the original Cold War (1947-1991) are striking, and perhaps most overwhelmingly, frightening. However, although it is easy to quickly categorise any Russian-related conflict as a ‘cold war’, this has the potential to create an outdated approach – when ultimately, it is a different era.

Technological developments since the Cold War are the perhaps the greatest difference between then and now. Communication is much more sophisticated, meaning that Kennan’s ‘Long Telegram’ today may have just been a particularly lengthy email… which perhaps could have avoided a great deal of the miscommunication, misinterpretation and misunderstanding that fuelled the Cold War. Therefore, today’s situation shouldn’t allow itself to become a Cold War – society has evolved in a way that should prevent some of these mistakes from repeating themselves, and so categorising it as such could condemn the world to another Cold War unnecessarily. Similarly, the continually expansive nature of globalisation has forced Russia to become included and cooperative with Western capitalism in a way that it refused to be in the latter half of the 20th Century. Russia engages with Western capital markets, importing Western goods and technology and exports oil and gas – a relationship that would be incomprehensible during the most hostile years of the Cold War.

However, this relationship is fragile. Today’s ‘Cold War’ may simultaneously be fuelled by technology via provocative social media. President Trump continues to fire off antagonistic tweets, which add to the lack of a respectful working relationship between Russia and the USA through the indirect insults being broadcast to the world. Trump claimed that ‘Our relationship with Russia is worse now than it has ever been, and that includes the Cold War’, but by proclaiming this via twitter, Trump is creating the foundations of a second Cold War by implication. To further this, Trump patronises Russia, suggesting that they need ‘help with their economy’ which will inevitably infuriate Putin, and is reminiscent of the sentiment of the Marshall Plan of 1948.

The combination of nuclear threats and rivalries, alongside the attempted assassinations (particularly the most recent Salisbury attack) have the ability to shatter any form of relationship and create tensions reminiscent of the Cold War. Society’s attitude to Russians seems to be reverting back to the Cold War era – the abundance of Soviet Bond villains (for example Rosa Klebb and General Grubozaboyschikov) had faded to give way to the middle east, but today’s media appears to be returning to the perception of the Russians as the villains – as shown in the recent BBC series of McMafia. Combined with the disgrace within Russian sport, the vilification of Russia through popular culture is a similarity to the Cold War era, that if uncontrolled, can be dangerous in leading public opinion to antagonise and heighten the situation into something more harmful than the current reality.

Whilst the threat of Russia is prevalent, with the Salisbury nerve-agent attack and the continual testing of new nuclear weapons heightening the severity of this, Russia is not the major global power that the Soviet Union once was. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the USA seemed to be in a stand-off, vying for the top spot – NATO versus the Warsaw Pact – but Russia’s former Warsaw Pact members have since switched alliances to NATO (Bulgaria, Hungary and Romania among others), leaving Russia’s sphere of influence severely depleted, and the USA’s significantly strengthened, meaning that the rivalry is no longer on the same level.

The difference between the Cold War and the present should not undermine the serious nature of today’s circumstances, but instead perhaps encourage a different approach. Putin is using tactics that remind the world of Stalin – manipulating election results, indirect threats, whilst Trump is provocative in a way that mimics Truman – but resigning ourselves to the fate of a second Cold War prematurely could sentence the world to an indefinite future of hostility unnecessarily. If the label of a ‘Cold War 2’ could be avoided, then perhaps the situation could be handled less fatalistically, and therefore avoid allowing this unrest to escalate to the extent of a second Cold War.

By Eloise Hall

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

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

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

The Blue Badge Policy and Hidden Disabilities

The Blue Badge Policy and Hidden Disabilities

Articles, Current Affairs

For years there has been ambiguity surrounding eligibility for the Blue Badge Scheme, and many vulnerable people have not been given adequate recognition where their disabilities have not been immediately visible. In this article, Bilal explains the changes that have been made to this policy to make it more inclusive.

The Blue Badge Policy and Hidden Disabilities

picture from BBC

The Department of Transport has recently announced plans to extend the Blue Badge Scheme to include people with hidden disabilities, such as autism and dementia. Additionally, the proposed changes would include allowing a wider range of medical professionals other than GPs to perform eligibility assessments, which could mean that mental health professionals will have a more direct role in these assessments. These plans have been opened up to an eight-week long public consultation. This follows a move by the Scottish Government in December 2017 that extended Scotland’s Blue Badge Scheme to include people suffering from dementia, autism and Down’s syndrome, as well as their carers.

The Blue Badge Scheme was introduced in 1970 under the Chronically Sick and Disabled Persons Act, and covers over 2.4 million people, granting them free parking in pay-and-display bays, and the permission to park on yellow lines in certain circumstances, among other benefits. The purpose of this scheme is primarily to ensure that people suffering from disabilities are not restricted in terms of mobility. Although it has undergone several reforms, these were mainly focused on limiting misuse and forgery of the badges by making verification more efficient.

Currently, eligibility for a blue badge is mainly tied to the physical ability to walk – this criterion excludes thousands of people on the autistic spectrum, as well as those suffering from dementia, anxiety, and conditions such as Colitis and Crohn’s disease. Although these people can physically walk, they may suffer from disorientation, agitation, or other unpleasant symptoms when doing so in public spaces. The current blue badge policy does include a provision for ‘considerable difficulty’ when walking, but it does not specify whether this refers to physical or non-physical difficulty. As a result of this ambiguity, the interpretation of these rules varies greatly between councils. The new proposal seeks to modify the criteria to ‘focus on the journey rather than just the physical act of walking’, in order to make the scheme’s implementation ‘fair and consistent’.

Plans to extend eligibility to include invisible disabilities have been considered previously – in 2005, the Department for Transport commissioned a research project to determine whether people with certain invisible disabilities – namely dementia, Autism, Colitis, and Crohn’s disease – could have mobility issues significant enough to warrant their being included in the Blue Badge Scheme. The research project was conducted by Transport and Travel Research Ltd (TTR) and found that those conditions could in fact impose significant limitations on individuals’ mobility. However, the project also identified significant potential issues with extending eligibility, such as a greater potential for abuse and reduced available parking spaces.

One of the issues highlighted by TTR in the report was that there was ‘widespread concern’ that giving people with invisible disabilities the same parking concessions as those with physical disabilities could ‘discredit the scheme’ in the eyes of the public. The research report therefore recommended that eligibility for the Blue Badge Scheme be limited to those who required physical help from another person in order to cross a street.

The fact that such a concern was so widespread highlights a larger underlying issue – the disparity between our perceptions and attitudes towards invisible disabilities as opposed to visible, physical disabilities. Despite the fact that awareness of mental health conditions has increased in recent years, and attitudes towards them have certainly improved since 2005, an underlying belief that mental conditions are somehow less serious than physical conditions remains entrenched in society. It is not uncommon to hear comments suggesting that anyone who isn’t in a wheelchair ‘doesn’t really need’ blue badge parking, which is unfortunate as those suffering from psychological conditions are often those who require the most support. In this sense, extending eligibility of the blue badge scheme would be a step in the right direction.

It is also important to note that invisible disabilities are not limited to mental health conditions, as the research conducted by TTR included Colitis and Cohn’s disease, which are bowel-related illnesses.

Overall, this situation presents an interesting case study of how councils interpret guidelines, the importance of clarity in such guidelines, and how public perception of issues can affect policies.

By Bilal Asghar