Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Articles, Current Affairs

The recent Hollywood scandals prompted a wave of revelations within our own government here in the UK with regards to sexual misconduct. In this article, Katie condemns not only those who have taken advantage of their power for their own sexual gratification, but also those who have allowed it to happen, advocating for change in a system that allows acts such as these to be dismissed or simply go unnoticed.

Westminster: The Grimy Iceberg

Michael Fallon – picture from Business Insider UK

Innocent until proven guilty is an essential corner stone of British democracy and judiciary. Or is it? In recent weeks as allegations of sexual harassment, assault and rape have been mounting and the number of men in the public eye whose reputation remains unscathed is rapidly falling: the British public have become the jury that never acquits. Some people find this unforgiving climate suffocating and think the limited room for ‘mistakes’ or ‘misunderstandings’ is creating a spiritless and more politically correct society. On the other hand, many people feel that this has been a long time coming and that to ignore the glaring facts and do nothing now would be a most abhorrent of crimes. It can not be disputed that this is only the beginning of what is a watershed moment for institutional sexism and sexual misconduct, and that unfortunately we have only reached the tip of what is sure to be a very grimy iceberg.

Whilst accusations against American celebrities Harvey Weinstein, Kevin Spacey and even Gossip Girl’s Ed Westwick have been dominating the international headlines, it is the allegations made against British MPs that will have much greater significance for the British public. The most high-profile of such allegations are those made against Conservative Ex Secretary of State for Defence Michael Fallon, who has admitted to repeatedly touching the journalist Julia Hartley-Brewer’s knee at a conference dinner. There are other allegations made against Fallon and the Observer even claims that No.10 have been compiling a list of these for some time, suggesting that there could be much more serious accusations still to be revealed. Fallon accepts that in the past he has ‘behaved inappropriately’, though many people have been questioning whether such behaviour is really ancient history.

Alongside accusations against Michael Fallon, there has been another high-profile incident of sexual harassment claims. This is less due to the seniority of the politician involved but more because of his response to the allegations. Carl Sargeant was a Welsh Labour AM who was informed of allegations of unspecified sexual misconduct made against him and subsequently fired from the Welsh Labour Party on the 3rd of November. Four days later he committed suicide. The specifics of the allegations are still unknown and there have been many questions raised regarding the First Minister of Wales Carwyn Jones’s handling of the situation. This raises another topical issue surrounding what responsibilities organisations should take for the actions of their employees and highlights a reason why so often allegations are swept under the carpet, because those in charge fear repercussions for their own careers. In addition, within organisations it is also common for those who have been sexually assaulted not to report it because they are afraid of the impact it will have on their current jobs and careers. This is undoubtedly not the way things should be. Silence abut sexual harassment and abuse is never the answer and the British public should wait for facts before accusing any whistle-blowers of falsification and organisations should undoubtedly never threaten the jobs of anyone making allegations.

Aside from these better-known cases there are currently seven Conservative MPs and four Labour MPs who been accused of sexual misconduct and will therefore be some of the many MPs under investigation by the new independent body. This body has been set up in an attempt to ‘drain the swamp’ that is the British Parliament in 2017 and therefore it is vital that this body remains impartial. As a result, it can not allow politically motivated corruption to infiltrate any of its members and meanwhile it must swiftly investigate allegations and dismiss any MPs necessary. However, an independent body can only go so far and cooperation from MPs and others involved in government is essential if the investigation is going to be success.

Furthermore, outside the grounds of Westminster it is vital that people become engaged with this pertinent issue. We must not allow ourselves to become victim blamers who can not accept the gravity and importance of allegations, and we certainly must not try to quell the voices of the brave women and men who are standing up. The courage that this takes should never be underplayed, as a society where the person who has violated you appears so powerful and well connected is a very difficult society in which to come forward. We must show people that their experiences will never be ignored and that this is a country that listens to those who are most vulnerable and takes times to give them the respect that they deserve. Unfortunately, sexual harassment, assault and rape are globally significant issues, but alongside this they are national issues and it is becoming increasingly apparent that these are your and my issues too, We have a duty to disinfect the grimy iceberg of Westminster.

By Katie Wharton

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Current Affairs, Uncategorized

Brexit has always divided opinion, but now it looks as though it will be responsible for dividing Ireland in a more literal sense. In this article, Jess explains how leaving the European Union presents a huge dilemma with regards to the Irish border, the only land border that will exist between us and the EU. 

Brexit’s Effect on Irish Borders

Irish Border – picture from The Sun

The Irish issue was one of the three main divorce issues that need to be settled in the first phase of talks, and yet it had taken a back seat in recent months, as the UK was arguing that it would be easier to find an agreement on the border issue once the future trading relationship was clear. But Ireland has refused to be ignored any longer. Post Brexit, the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland will become the only land border between Britain and the European Union, which hence begs the consideration of necessary passport and customs checks as well as tariffs. With Ireland holding as strong as ever, there is increasing concern regarding how Brexit negotiations can be continued without first considering the Irish question. Ireland grows in prevalence each day, especially given the newly formed coalition with the DUP, a controversial Northern Irish party.

In the Good Friday Agreement of 1999 between Britain and Ireland, Irish borders became ‘invisible’. The army checkpoints, security barriers and observation posts which were symptomatic of the discord between the two countries are now long gone and the only clue available of the change of jurisdiction is in the form of road side speed-limit signs. The European Union, Britain and Ireland all wish for the borders to remain as they are presently. However, that expectation is looking unrealistic given that under EU law customs checks are required.

If such customs checks are implemented, the economic ramifications would be substantial. Given that over 13,000 commercial vehicles cross the invisible border daily with freight ranging from meat to dairy to Guinness all of which is packaged in the Republic and then returned to Northern Ireland for export to the UK, if customs checks were executed the efficiency of the system would be vastly reduced. This begs the question of whether or not such trade deals would continue between the Republic and Northern Ireland as the economic benefits would be reduced.

For the Republic, the only solution they see is for the UK to remain in the Customs Union, which is a principal component of the EU, placing no tariffs on goods within the customs area and imposes a common external tariff on those goods entering the union. For the UK however, this is not a possibility. In order for the UK to enter the World Trade scene they must leave to begin levying other deals, which for Prime Minister May is an important part of the Brexit narrative.

Without a solution to satisfy all, will Irish borders be a battle won for the EU to the detriment of the UK? Following the most recent discussions, an ultimatum was presented to PM May, giving her until December to come up with a British plan to be negotiated further. Until then however, the trade negotiations hang in the balance awaiting the verdict and decision on how customs law will progress after the divorce.

By Jess Nield

Boris Johnson: a Fitting Foreign Secretary for a Post-Brexit Britain

Boris Johnson: a Fitting Foreign Secretary for a Post-Brexit Britain

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Boris Johnson’s recent comments regarding Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe have led many to question whether he is the right man for the role of Britain’s Foreign Secretary, one of the most important positions in the cabinet. In this article, Timea criticises the foreign policy department in Westminster, highlighting some of the consequences of its incompetence, namely the possible extension of a British woman’s prison sentence in Tehran.

Boris Johnson – picture from Sky News

Boris Johnson: a Fitting Foreign Secretary for a Post-Brexit Britain

The office of Foreign Secretary is one of the Great Offices of State, and is the primary official in British government responsible for foreign relations and promoting British interests overseas. In an ideal world, this office would be held by a man or woman with a grasp of the nuances and intricacies of foreign countries, a deft hand for diplomacy, and an impeccable understanding of a milieu of other nations and their unique cultural and historical perspectives. Instead, we have Boris Johnson, whose blunders are now directly measurable.

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a 38-year-old project manager with the Thomson Reuters Foundation, has been in prison since her arrest in Tehran in April last year. Last week, Johnson told the foreign-affairs select committee that he believed she had been “simply teaching people journalism, as I understand it”. Iranian state television coted this statement as an “inadvertent confession” that she was spying in Iran, placing her future liberty at risk. Johnson has since failed to give an apology that either the IRIB or Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s family have deemed as acceptable. Not only that, but environment secretary Michael Gove has stated that he did not know what Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe was doing in Iran, contradicting the official position of the government, her employer and her family that she was on holiday there.

This is one in a pantheon of blusters from a man who displays all the insight into the politics and judiciary of Iran as one would expect of a minister who once called the continent of Africa “that country”, and all the empathy and compassion for a British citizen that could only come from someone who stated that Libya could be the next Dubai once the “dead bodies” were removed. His appointment to the office of Foreign Secretary sixteen months ago is, as Brexit negotiations drag on, beginning to look more and more farcical as Britain faces perhaps its most important foreign policy decision of this century.

Jeremy Corbyn recently published a brief article in the Guardian, calling for Boris Johnson to either be sacked or resign. According to the Labour leader, the Foreign Secretary is unsuited for his role. Although his sentiment is correct, his assessment is wrong.

It is not in spite of, but because of his astronomical failings that Boris Johnson is the man perfectly suited to be Britain’s foreign secretary. What better representative of a country that voted for a campaign that claimed with either staggering arrogance or wilful impunity that it would be facile to negotiate trade deals with dozens of countries than a man who doesn’t understand half of them? What better public servant of a country that ignored decades of shared and complex European history in favour of a simplistic demonization of its governing body than a man who can do the same for the histories of entire continents? What better face to present to the world for the nation we are now- nationalistic, myopic, chaotic- than that of Boris Johnson’s?

The fact remains that this is the Britain a substantial portion of the public voted for, and for the times we live in, this is the truth of the country we are. Johnson’s attitude belies a colonial indifference that harkens back to the ages of the early 1900s, when millionaire Lords an ocean away sat around a map carving up pieces of the Middle East. Brexit Britain was in part a call-back to a romanticised version of this same colonialist history, its brutality glossed over to make room for Britain’s untethered, emancipated glory now that we have thrown off the shackles of EU bureaucracy. The foreign policy department of Westminster is now a tragicomedy that is less funny when one considers the plight of a woman who may now be imprisoned under a terror-sponsoring state for a decade of her life; its Foreign Secretary is less a man who bought into the errors of the Leave campaign than he is a physical manifestation of the aberration itself.

Men like Johnson and Gove are symptoms more than they are a cause of the country we now live in. Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s case is one of the more visible signs of their virus – but given where we now are, she will not be the last.

By Timea Iliffe

The Plaid Cymru Conference

The Plaid Cymru Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

When you hear the words ‘Plaid Cymru’ what is the first thing you think of? For me the answer is blaringly obvious: the leader I occasionally see on TV debates – Leanne Wood. And on the 20th-21st of October during Plaid Cymru’s autumn party conference Leanne Wood was once more the focal point of the party.

The Plaid Cymru Conference

Wood has been leader of Plaid for five years now and recently there has been talk of shaking up the party with one senior member of Plaid (Rhun ap Iorwerth) openly saying they’d be prepared to run for her role should she step down, and rumours that suspended AM Neil McEvoy was planning to run after disappointing results in June’s snap election with PC’s vote slipping by 1.7%. These rumours combined with requests from Plaid Cymru’s President to work with the Tories in Westminster in return for less contentious issues – something Wood has repeatedly ruled out – have put a lot of pressure on the leader.

The autumn party conference was seen by many as a chance to reassert her control, like the situation at the Conservative party conference. However, Mrs Wood’s attempt to bring her party into line was much more successful than Mrs May’s. She delivered a strong speech setting out many new policy objectives and Plaid’s willingness to practically achieve them which also focussed on her own strengths as leader of the party. This, combined with messages of support from McEvoy and Iorweth at fringe meetings, reaffirmed her strength as party leader. Wood thusly used the occasion to announce she would lead the party into the 2021 Welsh Assembly elections.
Wood set out three major new policies which Plaid would work towards in manifestos and within parliaments. The first is rail electrification in Wales, something recently overlooked by the Conservative government which Plaid would finance with government bonds. The second is working with unions to retrain and re-educate up to 29,000 Welsh workers whose jobs are threatened by machinery – a very handy non-partisan policy that they may be able to get through the labour-controlled Welsh Assembly to prove their legitimacy to potential voters.

The final major policy Wood pushed at the conference was also the most controversial: reaffirming the party’s position on Brexit. Wood said: “If, in the worst possible scenario, we leave the European Union without a deal, people must have the opportunity to reject that disastrous outcome, either through a public vote, or through parliamentary democracy.” This puts Plaid firmly on the remain side of current major UK parties concerning Brexit. Many consider this a strange and even unwise decision considering Plaid Cymru is a nationalist party and the nation they are representing voted highly in favour of leaving the EU.

The Plaid Cymru conference also hosted several speakers from the parties quickly developing youth wing Plaid Ifanc. They passed a motion into Plaid policy to introduce LGBT+ inclusive education in schools. Plaid Ifanc was founded as CymruX in 2005 and developed a set of key principles including Welsh independence and republicanism in 2015. More information can be found at www.plaidifanc.org

Having consolidated her leadership after the election, Leanne Wood now must prove to her country that she is capable of governance by forming compromises in the Welsh Assembly and potentially in Westminster. Whether she can do this whilst holding opposing views to the country’s citizens is a question yet to be answered.

By George Weir

The Scottish National Party Conference

The Scottish National Party Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

The Scottish National Party’s Conference took place in Glasgow between the 8th and 10th of October. The atmosphere was one of reflection after some of the party’s recent setbacks: including having lost 21 of their 56 seats in June, including former First Minister of Scotland Alex Salmond. This has also corresponded with a marked fall in Nicola Sturgeon’s personal ratings demonstrating the SNP’s honeymoon is well and truly over.

The Scottish National Party Conference

The official theme of the conference was “Progress.” However, the party was united by a feeling that the development of their country is being hindered by Brexit. This of course a difficult time while the negotiations to leave the European Union continue to promote uncertainty over our future. Sturgeon said in an interview during the time of the conference that it is a “failure of our government” that fifteen months on from the Brexit vote, the outcome of Brexit is less clear than ever. In the EU referendum, Scotland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the European Union, so what they, amongst many others, regard as poor performance from the government in Brexit negotiations is simply rubbing salt in the wound. However, some argue that SNP are using Brexit as a convenient way of not committing to when a second referendum might be held. This is less of a cynical position than an outsider might imagine; the SNP has clearly not given up on their intention of leaving Great Britain and clearly views Brexit as perhaps another way to gain what they desire.

A particularly poignant speech made during the conference was that of Paisley MP Mhairi Black, in which she spoke a lot about the need for Scottish independence. She criticised leading politicians in Westminster, particularly Jeremy Corbyn, who she called a disappointment, and Boris Johnson, referring to him as an “embarrassment” to the UK. Urging her party not to lose heart and put independence “on the backburner”, Black described the UK as “economically selfish, increasing xenophobic, cruel and reckless” and a “sinking ship”. Many Scottish people feel uncertain about what an independent Scotland would look like, and these were the fears she was trying to quell. One line that will have stuck with many in the audience was this: “I tell you what, we may not know what we’re stepping into, we might not know where we’re going, but we sure as hell know what we’re walking away from.” Maybe people have reason to fear the unknown, but can it be worse than the alternative?

Although independence was naturally a huge focus during the conference, the SNP are determined not to be seen as a one-policy party. The conference had thirty policy debates, involving issues ranging from Brexit, to public sector pay and mental health. Nicola Sturgeon speech on the last day addressed several issues concerning young people. She said that she plans to “close the attainment gap in [Scottish] schools” by investing more in education, and that the SNP’s “mission” is to give young people from poorer backgrounds “not just a better chance of going to university but an equal chance of going to university”. She also pledged that her party would build 50,000 more affordable homes, setting aside £3 billion for council housing, to help people, especially young people, get on the housing ladder. And, of course, she appealed to young people to support independence, reminding them that it is their future that is being decided.

By Lucy Higginbotham

The Green Party Conference

The Green Party Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

After their decrease in vote share in the snap election, the Green Party needed a conference that would assure them that their shared vision was still making a difference in British politics. The party co-leaders, Caroline Lucas and Jonathan Bartley, aimed to do so whilst also acknowledging that their electoral alliance scheme may have hindered the party in the most recent election.

The Green Party Conference

The underpinning theme of the conference was of “speaking truth to power”. As a political party with only one MP in Parliament, the Green Party is self-aware enough to realise that they are not the ones in power. However, they maintain that they can still change the political climate through their opposition to the main political parties. The conference was certainly not lacking in this sort of opposition with Jonathan Bartley even brandishing a packet of Blu-Tack above his head in his speech, assuring the crowd that he would be able to fix any stage malfunctions, like those in Theresa May’s now infamous Conservative Party conference speech. His comments on another Tory party member, Boris Johnson, were of a far less humorous disposition. He described the Foreign Secretary as a “human wrecking ball” and criticised his racist and insensitive comments, including his latest transgression when describing how the Libyan city of Sirte could become the new Dubai once they “clear the dead bodies away”.

As Bartley denounced the Conservatives as being “rotten to the core”, and criticised a whole host of their policies. Everything from local issues such as the demolition of estates to the government’s treatment of the refugee crisis were depicted as unjust. Easily the most emotional moment of the co-leader’s speech was his description of the terrible environment that those fleeing from persecution and violence are forced to endure in detention camps, where the rate of suicide attempts is three times that of inmates in British prisons.

The Green Party’s own policy towards refugees focused on the prevention of creating refugees through the expansion of the aid budget and on implementing free movement. The Party also re-affirmed some of their most longstanding policies such as opposition to all nuclear weapons and, obviously, the prevention of further climate change. The focus on environment was evident but it would certainly be wrong to say that this was the only topic discussed at the conference. This assertion that the Green Party is focused solely on the environment is one often levied at them by opposition, yet the Green Party leaders are definitely attempting to branch out from this single topic.

Whilst the Party made sure to congratulate its members on their perceived achievements, such as the prevention of the dementia tax and the continuation of the fox hunting ban, they also had to recognise that mistakes had perhaps been made. Despite the fact that the Green Party vote share in the snap election was the second-best election result that they have ever garnered, it was still a significant decrease compared to their vote share in the previous election of 2015.

Two factors were discussed as having caused this drop in votes, electoral alliances and the first past the post system of democracy in Britain. The party’s approach of stepping down to prevent conservative victories saw 22 local Green parties stand aside and whilst Bartley claimed that his helped to create a hung parliament and the “disarray” of the Tories, it is certain that some possible Green Party candidates “suffered” as a result of this policy. Some of this was put down to the reluctance of other political parties to work with the Greens but the leaders did seem to realise that this approach had not achieved the desired result. The need for proportional representation was also mentioned with Caroline Lucas condemning the first past the post system as preventing many as having a “meaningful vote”, something that she claimed added to the significant political disenfranchisement of our time.

This conference outlined the Green’s message that they are the only “honest” political party and that their policies and ideas are becoming “part of the mainstream”. Although this assurance that Green Party ideals are provoking change despite their small vote share and relative insignificance in Parliament might seem highly convenient, the co-leaders remain adamant that they are indeed “writing” the future. In a time when the main opposition party leader shares many of his views with the Green Party, the idea that this fringe political organisation is creating real change does not seem quite so far-fetched. To a certain extent, Jonathan Bartley’s comment that “where we lead…others will follow” does seem to ring true.

By Ella Myers

The Conservatives Party Conference

The Conservatives Party Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

The Conservative party conference took place in Manchester between the 1st and 4th of October. Theresa May tried, and failed, to reassert her authority over the party, a party which is divided over Brexit, down in the polls and desperately trying to avoid a leadership contest, something which appears to be becoming increasingly difficult.

The Conservatives Party Conference

 

The main part of the conference that was widely covered by the media was May’s speech, which was portrayed as being disastrous. Admittedly, her key points were at times overshadowed by the chain of mishaps that occurred during the speech. When comedian Lee Nelson got up on stage and handed her a P45, a form given to workers when they get the sack, it was easy to remember this and not her promise to place a cap on energy bills. May’s coughing fit distracted us from her plans to improve the way mental health issues are dealt with. And, of course, it was difficult to focus on her plea for party unity as letters from the slogan on the wall behind her began dropping off one by one.

Many, including several within the party, see this as a reflection of her incompetence. However, it is important not to ignore the key messages she delivered. May promised to end “rip-off energy prices” with a new cap on bills (although very little detail was given regarding the number of people it will cover and whether it will be an absolute cap or a limit in rises). She also announced that she would launch a review of the Mental Health Act with a view to updating the law, looking into how the NHS and other public services deal with people suffering with mental health problems. Without directly referring to Boris Johnson’s recent attempts to publicly undermine her Brexit policy, May called for the party to “shape up”, saying that what mattered was not petty internal conflicts but how the government served the British people.

It has been reported that the average age of Conservative party members is 72. Fewer than one in four under-30s backed the Tories in the June election, and the party lost every age group under 45. Therefore, it perhaps came as no surprise that youth issues came at the heart of the Tory conference, with May reforming reforms in two key areas: university and housing. The party announced that they would freeze fees for university students at their current level and lift the earnings threshold at which graduates must begin to repay their loans from £21,000 to £25,000. With regards to housing, May promised to provide more money to the Help to Buy equity-loan scheme which helps young people get onto the housing ladder, as well as increasing the budget for “affordable” (state-subsidised) housing.

Whilst these are positive changes for young people, it is difficult to ignore how insignificant these changes seem in comparison to the policies proposed by Labour. Where the Conservative party says they will freeze tuition fees, Labour say that tuition fees should be abolished altogether; where the Conservative party promises to build 10,000 extra affordable houses a year, Labour’s manifesto promised “at least 100,000 council and housing association homes per year”. Are Labour’s proposals unrealistic, or do the Conservatives need to be doing more for young people?

Theresa May is desperately clinging onto her position as PM – Tory MPs believe that the party is too weak to endure another leadership contest but can she last for much longer? The conference has undoubtedly weakened her position, and the next couple of years of Brexit are going to be tough for even the strongest and most stable of governments, something which the Tory party does not currently appear to be. The party made it clear that they are trying to win back the support of younger generations, but will May be able to deliver on her promises and are they enough?

By Lucy Higginbotham

The Labour Party Conference

The Labour Party Conference

Articles, Current Affairs

Between the 24th and 27th of September the Labour Party held their annual conference in Brighton. The atmosphere could only be described as odd; for a party that had only lost a General Election a few months back the way the atmosphere was one of jubilation. Even the General Secretary’s more pragmatic point of view could not spoil what was essentially a large party for the Corbynistas.

The Labour Party Conference

The actual conference began on the Sunday with a wide range of speakers most notably Diane Abbott, Shadow Home Secretary and Iain McNicol, General Secretary of the Labour Party. Ms Abbott referred to the Grenfell disaster and called for an ‘immigration amnesty’ to ensure illegal immigrants could share their stories without fear of repercussions. Mr McNicol’s speech was much more down to earth reminding the conference that despite gaining 32 seats they had lost 6. However, one major surprise were the release of facts surrounding Labours digital campaign. One of the Snapchat campaigns was reported to have reached 7.3 million people within the UK demonstrating the sheer power of social media.

The Monday contained some of the current Labour heavyweights who took the stage to repeatedly condemn the Conservatives. Keir Starmer set out Labours view on Brexit including the requirement to remain within the single market while the transitional period commences. This was followed by the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell who criticised the use of zero-hour contracts and pledged to repeal the Trade Union Act. It must also be said Mr McDonnell referenced the McDonald strike by workers in Cambridge and Crayfield as an example of the bad working conditions that the Conservatives have allowed in this country.

The Tuesday contained some major announcements for young people by Angela Rayner, the Shadow Secretary for Education and Barbara Keeley, Shadow Cabinet Member for Mental Health and Social Care. Mrs Rayner announced universal childcare for 2-4-year olds and warned against dangerous cuts to childcare. In response, she pledged £8 Billion for new school buildings and £13 Billion to update the whole school estate with other massive increases in resources for teaching. Mrs Keeley claimed the Conservatives were failing young people over mental health services and criticised their lack of action in the matter. This is a matter that affects young people desperately with a severe lack of facilities and care available for young people to stop their silent suffering.

Wednesday, the finale, was the occasion upon which Jeremy Corbyn came out to speak to the entire conference. He re-emphasised the importance of youth and re-affirmed everything his colleagues had said earlier in the week. However, he made yet another major announcement by declaring rent controls as a fair way to ensure no extortionate rental costs are imposed. The increase in affordable housing was also proposed as a way of helping first time buyers who have struggled in recent years. Mr Corbyn also agreed with his Shadow Chancellors proposals to remove the Public Sector Pay Cap to ensure wages could keep up in a fair and just way. Of course, following his Union roots he called for increased workplace democracy to ensure everyone gets more of a say in the final decisions including the younger workers. He called for the abolition of all fees for higher education be that universities or vocational qualifications so to extend the promise he made to young people before the last election.

By James Sullivan-McHale

Liberal Democrats and UK Independence Party Conferences

Liberal Democrats and UK Independence Party Conferences

Articles, Current Affairs

September saw the start of this year’s Autumn conference season, kicked off by the Liberal Democrats in Bournemouth (16-19th September). Ten days later UKIP held their conference in Torquay.

Leadership was to be a feature of both conferences, to a greater or lesser degree. Where the Liberal Conference saw the return to the forefront of Sir Vince Cable, recently appointed as leader, the conference itself was policy driven. In contrast, the conference of the party on completely the opposite end of the Brexit spectrum, the UK Independence Party, took an entirely different form, dominated by their leadership contest.

The Liberal Democrats Conference

A key feature of the Lib Dems conference was its desire to reduce inequality with regards to the hardships faced by young people in contrast to the perks enjoyed by older generations. This perhaps came as a surprise to many who view the party as appealing more to what is known as the “grey vote”.

MP Norman Lamb, who recently celebrated his 60th birthday, cited the example of his free medical prescription (one of the perks enjoyed by elderly people regardless of wealth). Holding it up he asked, “How can you possibly justify this perk when an 18-year-old with a long-term condition, like cystic fibrosis, has to pay for theirs?”.

There were a number of key policies targeting the young. They set out their aim to tackle the barriers facing those who are trying to get on the housing ladder by placing higher taxes on foreign property speculators and second home owners.

The party seems to have taken a U-turn with regards to its stance on tuition fees and are seeking to address the topical issue of student debts, which has also subsequently been discussed at the Labour and Conservatives conferences. Whereas before they were calling for their abolition, Sir Vince explained that he feels that high-earning graduates should pay more tax rather than relying on the population as a whole to fund university degrees and vocational qualifications. As many people do not attend university and obtain these qualifications he deemed it unfair that they should pay for them. He called for the term “graduate tax” to be used in the place of “student debts” as it is simply another way of taxing the wealthy and thus reducing inequality, and went on to argue that the annual salary of £21,000 at which graduates begin to pay these taxes should increase.

We saw Sir Vince Cable speaking as leader at the party conference for the first time. He said that he was “impatient for success” and hoped to become successful by offering a mixture of “hope and realism”. Some commentators argued that he lacked the energy and presence of previous leaders Nick Clegg and Tim Farron and was rather more serious and sensible. That said, he had no problem winning applause from his audience. The big question remains: will he be able to draw support from outside of his already faithful Lib Dems supporters?

Finally, the Lib Dems stand by their view on Brexit, a view that is not shared now by any of the other main political parties. Sir Vince Cable warned that leaving the European Union would be an act of “masochism” and that Brexit was a “looming disaster”. In his view, the market and customs union are “essential for trade”. The “pain [of Brexit] will mainly be felt by young people who overwhelmingly voted to remain.” The party wants a second referendum to be held after negotiations have ceased, allowing the British public one more chance to change their minds, but this is generally opposed by the other parties on the basis that this could encourage those negotiating on the behalf of the EU to give us a worse deal.

The UK Independence Party Conference

The UKIP conference was undoubtedly overshadowed by its leadership battle. That battle unsurprisingly sparked controversy, with a number of UKIP members threatening to walk out if Anne Marie Waters was elected as leader. An anti-Islam activist who is the director of Shariah Watch UK, she is herself a controversial figure, and would have taken the party in a very different direction to what we are expecting to see from the victorious leader, Henry Bolton.

Bolton does in fact have an interesting political background, having stood as a Lib Dems candidate in 2005 in Weybridge and Runnymede against the new chancellor Phillip Hammond, before joining UKIP in 2014. A self-proclaimed “expert in national borders, security, and foreign affairs” according to his website, he aims to “resume Nigel Farage’s legacy by restoring UKIP’s relevance and authority.”

We also got to see their new branding, which included their new slogan “For the Nation”, and their new logo which received criticism from many who noticed it looked quite… familiar. Among its critics was Marina Hyde, who wrote in the Guardian, “What sort of party of the people can’t even recognise the bleeding Premier League logo when it sees it?”

Despite having very contradictory ideas, the two groups seem to be facing a similar problem: how to make themselves relevant. Both parties’ overriding aim is increasing their popularity and support. UKIP is trying to restore some order, having elected its fifth leader in the space of just twelve months. Although Lib Dems have twelve seats and UKIP don’t have any, an Opinium poll carried out on the 18th September, Lib Dems and UKIP each received 5% support, showing that they are experiencing the same amount, or lack, of success.

UKIP have struggled to maintain support and enthusiasm since the vote to leave the EU because that appeared to be their sole purpose as a party. Sir Vince Cable on the other hand said during the Lib Dems conference that he did not want the party to be seen as a “reverse UKIP”. This is not only a reflection of UKIP as a one-policy party, but also of the Liberal Democrats. Both are struggling to sell themselves to the public as a real alternative to Labour and the Conservatives.

With UKIP still without an MP, and the Liberal Democrats trying to claw their way back after losing 45 seats since 2010, both conferences raised the question of what sort of future each party had.

By Lucy Higginbotham

Fast Food Giant in ‘Supersized’ Controversy

Fast Food Giant in ‘Supersized’ Controversy

Articles, Current Affairs

Editor’s NoteThe treatment of workers with regards to both condition and pay is something often neglected by CEO’s of large corporations. A fast food giant has been making headlines in the news recently as it faces a huge backlash from its workers, who demand better…

Fast Food Giant in ‘Supersized’ Controversy

McDonald’s have long had a bad reputation with regards to working conditions and pay, but this time its employees have had enough. Today, 40 staff from two McDonald’s stores in south-east London, Cambridge and Crayford, are walking out. This is the first time workers at McDonald’s have gone on strike in the UK, and it has really brought some of the harsh realities of what it is like to work for a company of this nature into the spotlight. This is a very important moment for young people as in the UK around 42% of McDonald employees are under 21.

So what is it exactly that they’re asking for that McDonald’s aren’t willing to give them? Firstly, many of them are on zero-hour contracts. In other words, they have little job security and no steady income. Employees wanted these contracts to be abolished by the end of the year. They also complained about the poor working conditions – there have been countless stories of bullying behaviour, extreme stress and sexual harassment, much of which goes unchecked and unchallenged. Finally, the Bakers, Food and Allied Workers Union that is representing the McDonald’s workers said that staff also want at least £10 an hour.

Some might argue that McDonald’s have a right to pay employees what they want to, and that if people are dissatisfied they can choose to work elsewhere. However, the truth is that there are many other companies that treat their employees exactly the same way. Workers don’t have the option of leaving their job because they depend on the income, which is what leads to their exploitation with regards to their contracts, their conditions and their wages.

Another moral perspective on this argument is the idea of equality. Not only do employers have power over their employees leading to social inequality in the working environment, but there is a vast difference between the amount of money going to those working in the McDonald’s outlets themselves and the executives and share-holders at the top, making it economically unequal. McDonald’s seem unable, or unwilling, to pay their staff £10 per hour. Its CEO, Steve Easterbrook, earns $15.35m per year. The Guardian calculated that, assuming he works a 40-hr week, Easterbrook would be earning £5,684 in an hour. In other words, McDonald’s are refusing to pay their staff 0.18% of what it CEO is earning in the same amount of time. This is simply unjust.

McDonald’s is the world’s second largest employer, and so a victory for the workers could really change the lives of millions of people, not just here but globally. This is also a huge cause that directly appeals to the younger generation who face uncertain hours and the prospect of losing their job that so many desperately rely on for a source of income. There are so many young people trapped in jobs such as these, earning what is deemed to be a living wage but is in fact impossible to live on. Hopefully today is only the first of many occasions where vulnerable employees will stand up to big, powerful corporations, and we will start to see real change in how workers are treated.