Another EU Referendum?

Another EU Referendum?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

The nation seems to be fed up of voting, whether it be in general elections or referendums, but could we be facing yet another vote on Brexit?

Another EU Referendum?

picture from ITV

The only thing we’ve really been sure of during the Brexit process so far is that we’re not really sure about anything. Eighteen months down the line, most people still don’t know any more about how leaving the European Union is going to affect their lives – and neither does the government. Nonetheless, there are many who believe that if we held another EU referendum there would be a different outcome this time round. We might expect this attitude, perhaps wishful thinking, from Remain supporters, but the person who surprisingly called for a second vote this week was in fact Nigel Farage.

So why is former UKIP leader and biggest supporter of Brexit ready to give his opposition another chance? Is he just bored now that his days of campaigning are over? I wouldn’t rule it out. However, the reason Farage gave for this sudden change of heart is that he wants to silence the “moaning” Remainers. He says that the Brexit discussions are being hindered by the constant debate and that he believes a second vote would see a bigger majority in favour of Brexit. It seems he has not learnt from last year’s general election. That said, he makes a valid point: with a Leave:Remain ratio of 52:48, many believe it is wrong to ignore 48% of voters. In fact, a petition was made with a view to implementing a rule that if the remain or leave vote was less than 60% based a turnout less than 75% there should be another referendum, and was signed by 4,150,262 people. Surely it would make it easier for the government to justify Brexit if people once again voted in favour of it?

On the other hand, passionate Remainers such as Nick Clegg and Tony Blair see it as an opportunity to reverse the decision. They believe that people were misinformed during the Brexit campaign and that now they have a (debatably) clearer idea of what leaving the EU entails they have a democratic right to change their minds. The Liberal Democrats are the only party who officially support a second referendum, and they feel people should know what the deal is before they vote, so that this time they can make an informed choice. This view is shared with several MPs, too, as the majority of the House of Commons (73% of MPs) opposed Brexit in the referendum, and many believe that the British public made a mistake.

But is a second Brexit vote realistic? It is difficult to argue that the Brexit process has been a smooth ride so far. Theresa May’s failure to win a majority at the last election has not only weakened her party’s mandate, but has also forced her to call on the controversial Irish party DUP. What does this tell us about what our deal with the EU is going to look like? Possibly not very much, but still more than what David Davis can currently tell us about the impact of Brexit. The Brexit Secretary was widely criticised by MPs who accused him of a “total dereliction of duty” as he said that “no systematic impact assessment” had been undertaken by the Government. With all these mistakes being made by the government, you might think they would be reassessing the situation. Conversely, May has insisted a second referendum would be a betrayal of voters and would also lead to a bad deal in exit talks, and Jeremy Corbyn has also opposed the idea. Whilst it is true that May went ahead with a general election having ruled it out earlier in 2017, it seems like the decision of both major party leaders is final.

Personally, despite being a Remainer myself, I do not believe we should have a second referendum. Britain’s exit from the European Union means that one of the bloc’s biggest economies will stop making contributions to its budget. Why would EU negotiators be willing to give us a favourable deal, knowing that if it was a poor deal we would vote against it and remain in the EU? Moreover, is the slim chance of a different result really enough to justify reigniting the tensions and divisions within our society which we saw so much following 2016’s referendum? I don’t believe it is. However, should the government give the British public a second chance to decide their future, one might hope that young people, the generation who will be most affected, will turn out in greater numbers this time. The 2016 EU referendum saw a turnout of 53% of 18-24-year-olds. Does this figure really depict a group of young people who want a say in their future?

By Lucy Higginbotham

Cabinet Reshuffle: an opportunity missed?

Cabinet Reshuffle: an opportunity missed?

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

Dissatisfied with May’s change’s to the cabinet, Timea criticises the Prime Minister’s decision to allow the unpopular Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, to maintain his position, highlighting some of his failures.

picture from Daily Mail

Cabinet Reshuffle: an opportunity missed?

This Monday, Theresa May took the opportunity to reshuffle members of her cabinet, with a number of promotions, sideways moves and demotions. Although any change to the dysfunction of the current cabinet is welcome, May missed the two major opportunities to truly reform and rejuvenate her government. The first would have been ousting, or at the very least changing the role of continuing Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson. The second would have been the removal of Jeremy Hunt as Health Secretary. Hunt will retain his position for now- if he is still in it by June, he will be the longest serving Health Secretary, surpassing Norman Fowler, who spearheaded the “Don’t Die of Ignorance” HIV/AIDS campaign, now regarded as one of the most successful in the world.

According to the most recent reports, Hunt was supposed to come out as the new business secretary, but either Greg Clark, who keeps that role, refused to budge- or, according to the Sun’s Tom Newton Dunn, Hunt did. He has instead been given what at first seems like a tokenistic tweak to his job title, becoming “Secretary of State for Health and Social Care”, replacing Marcus Jones, the former minister responsible for adult social care, and presumably taking a step towards the integration of the two departments.

The change in job title isn’t negative in itself- merging health and social care into one positon has long been an ambition of policy makers, and could serve well for placing the significance of social care on par with other health services. The negative aspect is that the title goes to Hunt yet again, giving one of the most actively incompetent Health Secretaries in living memory a greater swathe of policy over which to assert his malignant and often destructive influence. This year, Hunt has presided over yet another NHS winter crisis in which 55,000 operations were postponed, a new national emergency pressure panel was set up, and huge numbers of hospitals are operating at 100% capacity, forcing them to discharge patients early to make room for the acutely ill, and forcing the acutely ill to wait in corridors and ambulances for beds.

Hunt’s response? He apologised, saying that the current crisis was “absolutely not what I want”. I, for one, am inspired that the current government is channelling the spirit of generations of Conservative leaders gone by. Who can forget those immortal words: “It seems we’re losing the war lads,” (Winston Churchill, 1940) “Sorry about that.” Or the eloquent tones of Disraeli “British Empire’s not doing great. My bad”. Or even the bold, unwavering cries of Margaret Thatcher: “Whoops.”

This isn’t to criticise the act of apologising per se; humility and recognition of fault are valuable parts of politics, and inevitable parts of our politicians being fallible and human. It’s the utter apathy behind the pretence of sympathy. It’s “absolutely not what I want”, as if this were not a completely avoidable and foreseeable consequence of his policy and practice. It’s the nodding, passive show of concern that might be an acceptable response on its own if Hunt were one of 65 million people in the UK who were not the current Health Secretary.

Unfortunately for him, he is, which means he has to take a basic level of culpability for his decisions, not just in word but in deed. Deeds like perhaps giving the NHS more than half of the minimum £4 billion it needs to survive and that Simon Stevens, head of NHS England, requested. It’s not as if this would be an impossible task. Blair and Brown managed to bring waiting times down to a maximum of 18 weeks and A&E down to four hours, virtually abolishing waiting lists. Furthermore, many of us were under the impression that the Conservatives had recognised their fault last year. Or the year before last. Or at any of the points of critical underfunding in the last seven years of Tory government, while the National Health Service was slowly being stripped of the resources it needed to keep itself alive and patients safe.

One of May’s goals for her Cabinet reshuffle was to counter some of the “pale, male and stale” image of her frontbench. Hunt, meanwhile, ticks all those boxes- besides perhaps the latter. Far from being tasteless, his continued presence in government is actively nauseating. Shadow Health Secretary Jonathan Ashworth was right to call his promotion a “kick in the teeth”. Even if he were to take that literally, it’s not as if Hunt would be able to receive treatment for the injury at this time anyway. Maybe the doctors could apologise instead.

 By Timea Iliffe

70 Years of the NHS

70 Years of the NHS

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

As the NHS reaches the end of its 70th year, Namitha reviews some of its past successes, explores how the government is to address its present issues, and looks optimistically towards its future.

70 Years of the NHS

picture from NHS England

Ever since its founding in 1948, the NHS has remained a vital part of our country’s welfare state. As one of the world’s most cost-effective health systems, despite the extensive bureaucracy that remains a constant drainage, it directly contributes to the success of the British economy.

Life expectancy has been rising by five hours a day and with this comes a growing and aging population, with increased expectations for the level of care to be provided to this sector of society. Yet with the budget being stretched thin to not only improve such services, but to also match modern disease with modern medicine, deal with increased staff pressure, maintain and improve quality of care and most importantly of all keep the service afloat, the future of the NHS is a foreboding question. Public satisfaction with the NHS is higher than in all but three of the past 30 years, yet this is not the image conveyed by the media of today. Headlines such as ‘A&E wards on the brink’, ‘dismal waiting times’ and ‘is the NHS going to break?’ continue to undermine the system, with care gaps exposed, increased waiting times and mistakes flaunted by the media. Yet the increase in annual cancer survival rates nor the significant reduction in heart attacks and stroke rates are given such focus. In fact the fundamental message given off is that our NHS is failing and a drain to the treasury, whilst still being underfunded and abused.

So is 2018 going to be the turning of a new leaf? Highly doubted. The 2014 ‘Five Year Forward View’ seems to be continuing on, promising positive and effective change and reallocation of resources to cement the success of the National Healthcare Service. Yet given we are already three years in, a radical improvement remains a distant dream. One way of actually reducing costs? Addressing the market failure.

The NHS does not stand alone. With nowhere near enough funding to make its own drugs and fund processing, the public service relies upon external companies to sell mass treatments at affordable prices. External companies manipulate this to their advantage, with one such example being liothyronine, a key thyroid treatment drug. Drug company Concordia overcharged the NHS by millions, with the amount the NHS paying per pack rising from £4.46 in 2007 to £258.19 by July 2017, an increase of almost 6,000%. In other European cities, patients continue to see the drug at £5. Until earlier in 2017, Concordia was the only supplier of this drug and hence it was a clear manipulation of their market power and monopoly over the given industry. Yet it is not always the externalities that are to blame. On repeated occasions, the NHS have chosen high-priced pharmaceutical companies over cheaper alternatives, and this is where the question of political sleaze and individual gain come into place.

Take the world of ophthalmology. Age-related macular degeneration is a type of eye-disease that the NHS have been trying to address. Currently, due to effective lobbying by certain high-profile pharmaceutical firms, two drugs namely lucentis (ranibizumab) and aflibercept (eylea) are being used, however a much cheaper drug called avastin (bevacizumab), could be used instead, saving the NHS around £500 million per year. This is said to be essentially held back by regulatory framework, however sceptical doctors have made clear their concern about those who could be making changes remaining disturbingly passive. More broadly this can be seen with the issue of privatisation, with external companies charging trusts extortionate amounts to do simple cases, begging the question of what the government are going to do to address this market failure, despite the high tax benefits obviously being absorbed.

Hence it is clear that the problems facing the NHS won’t be stopping any time soon. Yet as we reach 70 years of the NHS, it is evident that the simple act of improved ethics could go a long way.

By Namitha Aravind

The Evolving Threat of Cyber Warfare

The Evolving Threat of Cyber Warfare

Articles, Current Affairs, Opinion

As our infrastructure becomes more and more dependent on modern computer systems, software, and networking, it has also become vulnerable to an entirely new form of warfare. Several recent events indicate that Cyber warfare is developing rapidly, and software that is relatively easy to develop has proven to be considerably dangerous. In addition, concerns about the use of social engineering and the use of bots to spread propaganda and potentially influence elections have been raised repeatedly since the US election. Several countries have been experimenting with such technological warfare capabilities, and this has created a new global landscape that policymakers and voters need to be aware of. The reality is that conventional foreign policy and military tools simply do not work against cyber-attacks, whether they are state-sponsored or not.

The Evolving Threat of Cyber Warfare

picture from Cronkite News

Governments and intelligence agencies have been interested by the possibility of using software as a weapon of war ever since the first pieces of malware, such as the ‘Elk Cloner’ and ‘Brain.net virus’ appeared in the 1980s. However, their destructive potential was limited, as very few pieces of crucial infrastructure depended on computer systems, and even fewer on networked systems that could be accessed remotely. Today, trains, hospitals, educational institutions, air-traffic control, power plants and countless other essential services depend on networked computer systems, and so the potential for cyber-attacks causing damage has increased. Perhaps the most damaging incidence of such an attack to date was the use of Stuxnet, a malware programme believed to have been developed by US Intelligence agencies, to cripple Iranian nuclear enrichment facilities in 2010.

More recently, several hospitals in the UK were affected by the WannaDecryptor (or WannaCry) malware, which encrypted important computer files, making them inaccessible, and demanded ransom, while using the NHS network to spread itself to other computers. According to the National Audit Office, at least 81 NHS trusts across England were affected. This was clearly either a prototype or developed unprofessionally, as it was linked to an unregistered domain that acted as a kill switch, which was discovered by a researcher at Malware Tech Blog who used it to disable the attack. Although the origins of this malware are still unknown, it is unlikely that a cyber-weapon developed by a state would have such a kill switch built into it, so a more likely explanation is that this was simply an attempt by civilian hackers to make money by holding computer systems to ransom. A similar programme called ‘Petya’ later targeted Ukrainian and German banks. Losses as a result of such attacks in 2017 were estimated to be around $4 billion USD.

The 2016 Democratic National Committee (DNC) hack in the US has also been cited as an example of cyber warfare, and despite the lack of evidence, many have speculated that it was orchestrated by the Russian Government to manipulate the US elections. This example illustrates a major issue with the way in which politicians have apparently failed to understand the nature of this new threat – former US Secretary of State and Presidential nominee Hilary Clinton, in a campaign speech, stated that she would ‘treat cyber-attacks just like any other attacks’, and threatened to use ‘economic, diplomatic, and military’ measures against Russia. Such an approach is misguided – firstly, it is almost impossible to know for certain whether or not any given cyber-attack is state-sponsored or not. Secondly, cyber-attacks are not the same as any other attack; they are fundamentally different in many ways. For example, attacks can be launched from multiple different locations around the world simultaneously and location data can easily be falsified or concealed.

Aggressive policy and threatening to use physical weapons is not the answer to the challenge of cyber weapons. Neither is Theresa May’s increasingly Orwellian surveillance and data collection policy.

What is needed is a more sensible, defensive policy – investment in basic computer security measures, such as regularly updating software (which could have protected the NHS from the WannaDecryptor attack), setting up backup networks, isolating critical networks from the internet, and developing low-tech backups to be used in emergencies. Despite this being a very technical issue, most of these concepts are common sense. An employee clicking on an infected internet link should never lead to entire hospital networks being paralyzed for days – computers being used to access the internet should be kept isolated from such critical infrastructure. All this can be implemented with a fraction of the cost of the government’s current £1.9 Billion strategy, and would be significantly more effective at preventing cyber-attacks as well as reducing the impact of everyday cybercrime.

As technology improves in areas such as AI and Machine Learning, it is likely that malware and other forms of technological warfare will become more potent. The government has been spending billions on defence projects such as the new aircraft carriers, presumably in an attempt to revitalise Britain’s traditional power-projection capability.

Perhaps defending against the weapons of the future should be a higher priority than fighting the cold wars of a bygone era.

By Bilal Asghar

People Read What They Want to Hear

People Read What They Want to Hear

Articles, Opinion

It is reasonably common knowledge that there is a lack of understanding between different groups in society, whether that be decided by nationality, faith or some other factor, but how much are people really doing about it?

People Read What They Want to Hear

picture from University of Oxford News

How often do you subconsciously choose to read something because you share the writer’s views? More than you think. Whether you’re a Tory reading the Daily Telegraph, or a Labour supporter reading The Guardian, we’re all guilty of it. In a society full of many different people each with a different set of beliefs and values, we need to be able to understand each other’s perspectives. But how can we do this if people are naturally inclined to only see the world through their own eyes, and the eyes of people they already agree with?

So how far do people actually go to avoid contrary viewpoints? In May this year, the Journal of Experimental Psychological Science carried out an experiment in the US to see exactly this. The way it worked was that the people involved in the experiment were presented with a choice of two articles reflecting different views on same-sex marriage. They were told that they could either read the article they agreed with and be entered for a $7 prize draw, or read the article they didn’t agree with and be entered for a $10 prize draw. Incredibly, 63% of the people chose to read the article they agreed with at the expense of the opportunity to win more money.

The experiment provides indisputable evidence that people are drawn to articles that match their own perspective, and we assume that this is because they are more self-affirming and comforting. An author of the study, Matt Motyl, referred to this as “motivated ignorance”. In other words, people regard the emotional comfort they could lose by being exposed to an alternative point of view as being of more value than the additional $3.

Bearing this in mind, is it any wonder that there are still huge divides in society with regards to race, sexuality and gender, just to name a few, when people are so narrow-minded in what they choose to read or learn about? How can we expect to see a change in people’s attitudes when the only attitudes they are familiar with are their own?

I feel that a lack of mutual understanding between different sections of society is a major problem that we all have a duty to try and overcome. We all ought to step away from the comfort of reading only news that reinforces our own views and instead try to learn more about other people’s.

By Lucy Higginbotham

Brexit Versus Monarchy?

Brexit Versus Monarchy?

Articles, Opinion

The relevance of the British monarchy has been questioned for many years, but will Brexit further reduce the political power and therefore usefulness of the royal family? Luca provides a balanced view of some of the arguments for and against the abolition of the monarchy.

Brexit Versus Monarchy?

picture from Global News

The monarchy has been a fundamental part of the way the UK is governed since the Norman conquest in 1066, however its future is constantly being questioned today. Those in favour of its abolition argue that as the UK’s uncodified constitution (a constitution that is made up of rules that are found in a variety of sources, in the absence of a single legal document or written constitution) has evolved the need for a monarch has become somewhat obsolete. However, others defend the monarchy, arguing that, even if it is no longer useful politically, it offers economic benefits such as the revenue created by tourism, and is an important part of British culture.

The Queen, even now when the monarch’s power is greatly diminished, has roles in legislature, executive and judiciary branches of the state. However, these are all largely ceremonial and usually just involve her signing for confirmation. This in itself emphasises the lack of need for a monarch. The monarch’s loss of power can be traced back to constitutional documents such as the Magna Carta (1215) or the Bill of Rights (1791), and a popular argument is that monarchy contradicts the notion of democracy as it means the rule of a single supreme figure. Moreover, maintaining the monarchy costs tax payers 62 pence per annum on average which could be spent more effectively on public services such as the NHS.

On the other hand, the royal family generates a large income through tourism, for example attracting people to visit Buckingham Palace. According to Brand Finance, tourism revenue connected to the monarch and its heritage was valued at £535 million for 2015. Industry in the UK also benefits to a certain extent from what is known as “the Kate effect”. The royal family indirectly endorses clothing lines through fashion choices, particularly the Duchess of Cambridge but also Prince George.

Monarchy is also seen by many in the UK as the epitome of British culture, something which invokes a sense of belonging. In some ways, it is a reminder of our national identity, and many people look up to them as positive role models in our society. This of course works both ways as one could say it provides an identity so far removed from the reality of what life is like.

The arguments for and against monarchy have been ongoing for some time. However, this controversial debate may find itself being more widely talked about as we continue with Brexit negotiations. As the UK’s uncodified constitution evolves or is potentially even completely reworked by these changes, the royal family may see themselves becoming increasingly irrelevant. Could Brexit make the abolition of the monarch’s power necessary?

By Luca Lyons

Is the British constitution ready for the next generation?

Is the British constitution ready for the next generation?

Articles, Opinion

We often hear criticism of the American codified constitution, almost entirely written during the 18th century, as there is a strong case to be made that it is outdated – but what about our constitution? In this article, Joe argues that our political system requires reform and that it is letting down the younger generations.

Is the British constitution ready for the next generation?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The British constitution is an ancient, evolving system. The British parliament is sometimes referred to as: ‘the father of parliaments’, as it inspired the systems of almost all nations that aspire to democracy. This immense age however, also serves as the constitution’s greatest weakness. Its evolution is slow –painfully slow at the best of times- and when everything about our world is speeding up, this results in a build-up of political tensions, especially amongst the youth of the nation. The last major piece of constitutional reform took place nearly 20 years ago – and the world has changed a great deal since then.

Millennials have access to so much information that they are quickly becoming one of the most politically informed and engaged generations ever, and this trend is likely only to continue in the future. This is already having a massive impact on British politics. Many pundits labelled the surge in youth participation in the 2017 election the ‘YouthQuake’, a nickname that exemplifies the seismic nature of shifts occurring in the political views of the population.

The Prime Minister –through the help of whips and the promise of promotion to MPs – can wield almost unlimited political power, as they hold a majority in parliament, which is the source of sovereignty in the UK. For a generation with a massive range of new, bold political ideas, and the desire to play a much more active role in the governing of the country, this is simply not good enough.

The most recent case where this system has presented huge problems for British democracy was the implementation of the 2017 Brexit bill. British young people have a massive range of ideas about the future of this country, and the ways in which this country can be improved through the opportunities that Brexit presents us. The bill however, passed without amendment, exactly to the specification of Theresa May and her government. All petitions regarding Brexit from the public were also summarily ignored, any illusion that the public would be consulted on the process of Brexit being stripped away.

The British system relies entirely on simple majorities. This system is far from ideal, and far from the most democratic of possibilities. When you follow the will of a majority and disregard the ideas of the minority (especially when the majority is slim) you are disenfranchising a massive section of the population. When you split political groups into ‘winners’ and ‘losers’, you are essentially labelling half of your population to be ‘losers’. How this can be regarded as healthy for a nation remains mysterious. John Stewart Mill labelled this problem the ‘tyranny of the majority’ as early as the 19th century, but the effects of such a tyranny have yet to be seriously considered.

The youth of the nation seems to consistently fall into the category of ‘losers’. When less than half the population have their ideas represented in government, and even then has no input into the process of governance for the next 5 years, it is clear that reform is needed. The reason the youth turned out so readily for Corbyn in 2017 was not free tuition (despite what many Conservatives would have us believe), but because he represented real change of a degree not seen for far too long.

When confronting the problem of over power government, a range of solutions presents themselves. The most total solution would be the establishment of a written constitution for the UK, which would allow not just the independence of parliament from the PM (and thus real parliamentary sovereignty), but also for the courts to hold government to account. In regards to the political ostracisation of nearly half of our population (and the youth in particular), the need for a new, proportional electoral system is obvious.

Under FPTP, the political ideas of the loser (no matter how valid) are almost totally ignored once the election is over. Many good ideas are therefore lost, and ideas that had been supported by massive sections of the population are abandoned. Coalition governments, on the other hand, require by their very nature a mixing of ideas. They allow for the best ideas from a number of parties to be turned into policy – improving the quality of governance. They also allow for a much larger section of the population to be represented in government, ending the disenfranchisement of a majority of the population. Coalition governments in the UK are not necessarily unstable. The coalition formed in 2010 survived and thrived until the 2015 general election, to be followed by a majority Conservative administration, that had fractured after only 2 years.

Our nation stands on the cusp of a massive political change, and our system must adapt faster than ever in order to survive. The next generation is politically active, interested and engaged, but they are not being presented with any opportunities to participate in governance due to the failures of our constitution. Discontent with the political system is beginning to manifest within the country, and will only lead to greater and more extreme political oscillations until the problem is finally rectified.

By Joe Beaden

How to impeach Trump (and the dangers it could present)

How to impeach Trump (and the dangers it could present)

Articles, Opinion

Despite his large base of supporters who voted for him in 2016, there is without a doubt a significant number of people who would like to see the controversial president Donald Trump removed from office. Many have fantasized about this, but could it become reality? In this article, Rowan discusses the possibility of Trump’s impeachment, and whether this would actually have the desired outcome for those who oppose him.

How to impeach Trump (and the dangers it could present)


picture from The Independent

Donald J. Trump was inaugurated as the 45th president of the United States of America on 21st January 2017, and from 22nd January there were calls for his impeachment. On Wednesday 9th December, the first official step towards this goal was taken by Congressman Al Green, a Texan Democrat, when he attempted to force the first articles of impeachment against President Trump through Congress. This was despite the objections of the House Democrat leadership, who reportedly saw it as a ‘distraction in a Republican-controlled senate’, and almost all Democratic representatives in the house supported a motion to side-line the resolution, which passed 364 votes to 58, essentially stopping the resolution in its tracks with no hope of revival. After his move to impeach the president had failed, Congressman Green said that “this will not go down as a footnote in history” and that the vote in the house Was definitely “not a non-event”. Green had never expected the articles to pass and had not even lobbied for Wednesday’s debate, but his comments afterwards clearly show that he expects later attempts to be more serious and credible.

It is all well and good saying that future articles of impeachment will have to be more serious and credible in order to succeed where Wednesday’s resolution failed but how can this level of credibility be achieved by the Democrats hoping to oust Trump? Well, for myself at least, the answer to this can be found in the meaning of the word ‘impeachment’. To impeach a president quite simply means ‘to put a president on trial’. This makes it clear that impeachment has a serious legal context as well as a political one and Article II, Section 4 of the American Constitution states that: “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High Crimes and Misdemeanours.” The constitution makes it clear that impeachment is reserved for the most disgraceful and criminal acts committed in office and, quite frankly, Congressman Green’s justification did not meet this. As much as we may all agree with Al Green when he denounces Trump as a bigot and a man who demeans the office of US president, none of these are considered high crimes in the law of the USA and as such do not provide stable grounds upon which to submit articles of impeachment to the House.

It is entirely possible that the federal inquiry into suspected collusion between the Trump presidential campaign and the Russian State, led by Robert Mueller, could reveal evidence of impeachable conduct, even treason, by the President and if this does happen then Trump’s impeachment will be inevitable. However, this seems unlikely as the investigation is into the Trump administration and not President Trump himself. What could pose more of a direct threat to Donald Trump’s presidency is an investigation into the accusations of sexual harassment against the President made by several women. Following the resignation of Democrat Senator Al Franken over sexual harassment and assault claims, there have been renewed calls for an investigation into Trump over similar and more severe accusations of harassment and assault. Whilst such an investigation should be called for reasons other than potential impeachment, namely to make the truth known for the American people and provide justice for the women if the allegations are found to be true, if the Democrats really want to challenge Donald Trump’s presidency then those in Congress and the Senate should be making a greater push for an independent investigation into President Trump and the allegations as a whole.

Amongst the questions of how to achieve impeachment there also lies the following question. Should the Democrats truly be trying to impeach President Trump? Obviously, if either the federal inquiry into Russian collusion, or an investigation into allegations of sexual harassment and assault committed by Donald Trump, reveal illegal and unethical behaviour by the President then of course the procedures of impeachment should be acted upon by the House of Representatives and the Senate. However, the American people should be wary. Waiting in the wings to take over from Donald Trump upon his resignation or removal from office is Mike Pence; an ultra-conservative Republican from Indiana, and the current Vice-president. What makes Pence so much more dangerous than Trump is that he is so much better than him. As a politician, as a negotiator and as a law maker, Mike Pence far surpasses the capabilities of Donald Trump solely because he has been in politics for far longer. He has been a part of the establishment of American politics for a while now, having previously been Governor of Indiana, and has the competencies and awareness that comes with that experience. It is totally foreseeable that, under a Pence administration, the USA could slip back into a society where people are marginalised and social issues are left to grow and fester. Just imagine, the policies and ideals of Trump and his administration, only presented by a credible and capable leader who can gain the political and popular support that they require to pass into law. If this is the future that faces a post-Trump America, can it be any wonder that the House Democrats are wary of impeachment.

By Rowan Fitton

Postal voting: one step forward, two steps back?

Postal voting: one step forward, two steps back?

Articles, Opinion

On 12 September Australia began voting on whether same-sex marriage should be legalised. This is the first time Australia has carried out a vote or survey entirely using postal voting (with only a handful of exceptions being made for those with extenuating circumstances such as being out of the country or if the person is visually impaired, in which case they were able to vote online). Questions have been raised about whether this method could replace the traditional way of voting at polling stations in the future. Is this something we should consider here in the UK?

Postal voting: one step forward, two steps back?

picture from BBC by Julian Lorkin

Currently in the UK people are expected to vote at their local polling station, and must specifically request if they want to receive their ballot paper in the mail. This works well for those who are busy, or those who are not in their constituency for whatever reason on polling day. But that doesn’t account for all those who don’t make it to the polling station. Surely there will be a correlation between those who cannot be bothered to go out and vote on the day and people who don’t bother to request postal voting forms?

If each eligible (registered) citizen in the UK began to automatically receive a ballot paper in the mail rather than having to register, this would, in theory, solve this problem and increase voter participation. UK voters would no longer have to drag themselves out to the polling stations in the miserable weather on polling day, and therefore people would not be losing anything, whether it be time, effort or the comfort of their own home, by voting. It would also mean that they would not be relied upon to register for postal voting forms in advance.

However, there is a strong argument that this approach might not increase voter turnout, but could in fact have the opposite effect (and that is before we consider the flaws in postal voting itself). We have established that if everyone voted by post, this would reduce what we might call the cost of voting, in other words why someone might be put off. But what about the benefits the individual gains by voting? What drives someone to vote in the first place?

From the point of view of the individual, choosing to vote is in fact fairly irrational. The chances of winning a lottery and of affecting an election are pretty similar. The only example of a significant election in the UK where someone won by a margin of only one vote was when Conservative MP Henry Duke maintained his seat in the House of Commons by getting 4777 votes to his opponent’s 4776. This is as far back as 1910, which demonstrates just how rare this situation is – surely a rational person, knowing this, would not vote purely on the basis that their vote would change the outcome of an election? And yet, we still vote. Why?

Another reason why people might vote is that we have been brought up to believe that voting is our civic duty, believing that it’s a good thing for society, even if it’s not so good for the individual, and so we feel guilty for not voting. Of course, this is a very morally correct approach, and indeed if everyone took this stance it would be good for society. Perhaps this is the motivation for a lot of voters. But it also leads us onto another reason why people are willing to go out of their way to vote at polling stations, which might not be true for voting by post.

Switzerland, in an attempt to reverse the consistent decline in voter participation across several elections, recently introduced the mail-in ballot. Of course, everyone expected that, now that voting had become so convenient, voter participation would increase substantially. But the exact opposite was true. Voter turnout decreased, especially in smaller cantons (the twenty-six state-like districts that make up Switzerland) and in the smaller communities within cantons. Why is this the case? Why would fewer people vote when the cost of doing so is lowered?

Patricia Funk, a social scientist, explained the outcome of this natural experiment, linking it back to the incentives behind voting. In Switzerland, just like in the UK, “there exists a fairly strong social norm that a good citizen should go to the polls,” Funk writes. “As long as poll-voting was the only option, there was an incentive (or pressure) to go to the polls only to be seen handing in the vote. The motivation could be hope for social esteem, benefits from being perceived as a co-operator or just the avoidance of informal sanctions.” In other words, people might not feel morally obliged to vote, but it is in their own interest to vote to improve or maintain how they are viewed by others.

While postal voting seems like a practical way of removing factors that would discourage people from voting, it also removes at least one factor that might encourage people to vote. Therefore, contrary to popular belief, introducing the mail-in ballot here in the UK would most likely lead to a drop in voter participation.

By Lucy Higginbotham

The Government- Britain’s Brighter Future or Greatest Threat?

The Government- Britain’s Brighter Future or Greatest Threat?

Articles, Opinion

Following the launch of a review led by the Prime Minister’s national security, the defence cuts that have taken place over the past few months have been under immense scrutiny. In this article, Ben criticises the government’s organisation and lack of funding regarding the military, and discusses some of its implications.

The Government- Britain’s Brighter Future or Greatest Threat?

picture from Jersey Evening Post

Conflict, instability and uncertainty. These things plague not just the United Kingdom but the rest of the world too. Tensions are on the rise between the world’s superpowers and one only has to glance at a newspaper to see this. In the Far East, the ongoing disputes between the United States and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea have brought us closer to Nuclear War since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Closer to home, only months have passed since Russia seemed to be on the brink of launching an invasion into Eastern Europe. Furthermore, various events have shaken the country, with tragic terrorist attacks occurring on home soil, both in Manchester and London. With the world in a state like this, it would seem obvious that the government give special attention to the nation’s security and armed forces – right?

In reality, this is far from the case. Since coming to office in 2010, the conservative government has made budget cut after budget cut, crippling our once illustrious armed forces. What was once one of the world’s most respected fighting forces has been turned into a laughing stock and a far cry from what it needs to be to ensure the country’s security.

The government currently claims to be “committed to spending 2% of Britain’s G.D.P on defence”. However, it has become apparent that this is simply not the case, and as a result the armed forces is being starved of the equipment it needs. This 2% may be the result of clever accounting which, while very clever on a financial level, is not clever from a security point of view.

The numbers are staggering. In 2010 the army’s total manpower (active servicemen and women) stood at roughly 102,000. Now, after 7 years of Conservative government, this number has dropped to beneath 80,000. But it isn’t just the army’s numbers that have suffered. The number of total military personnel (across all branches of the armed forces) currently stands at around 141,260, even though the official personnel requirement is 147,000.

But why is this? Why are the numbers for the armed forces so embarrassingly low? Speaking to the Mirror on the 7th of May this year, Labour MP Dan Jarvis (ex-British Army Major who saw action in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kosovo and Northern Ireland) has slammed the Conservatives’ treatment of the armed forces, labelling this as the cause. He says, “Thousands of highly experienced war veterans who fought in Iraq and Afghanistan are leaving (the armed forces) earlier than they would have done because they see no future under the Tory Party”. Although some bias is to be expected from a Labour MP’s criticism on the Tories, further research would appear to confirm this statement.
Whilst researching the topic, I came across a Facebook page titled “Fill Your Boots”. The page, as of the time of writing this article, has 132,862 “likes”, most coming from active and ex-servicemen. Run by Alfie Usher, a former paratrooper (one of the British army’s most elite units), the page focuses on satire directed towards the armed forces. Although Mr Usher was unable to comment on the state of the armed forces under the Tory government, a simple scan down the page told me all I needed to know. Many of his uploads slated the current, poor state of the British Army, with countless fellow servicemen commenting in agreement, all suggesting that the army was, quite simply, a shambles, and that costs are being cut wherever possible, often at the expense of those serving.

Mr Jarvis MP continues to criticise the government’s treatment of the armed forces saying, “(Tory MPs) should be embarrassed by the damage their party has done to our armed forces…Britain’s defences under Tory leadership are almost unrecognisable to how they were left by the last Labour government”. Unfortunately, Mr Jarvis’ criticisms extend beyond just the lack of personnel. The budget cuts have left the services desperately short of equipment. For example, in 1990, Britain had a total of 1198 tanks, essential pieces of equipment for a modern army. In 2015, this had dropped to only 242, a fraction of what it had been before. In 1992, Britain had a 411 active military aircraft. Now, this number stands at 207, almost half of what it had been. Finally, in 1975, the Royal Navy consisted of 70 destroyers and frigates (fighting vessels). By 2015 this had dropped to just 19. Of course, these dramatic drops in numbers cannot all be blamed on the Conservative party as cuts still occurred under governments before. Indeed with the recession in 2010 it was only natural savings would need to be made elsewhere. However, the current and previous government certainly contributed to this decay and has shown no sign of improving the situation. In their first year in office (2010), the Government scrapped almost £4 billion worth of submarine-hunting aircraft, only to then ask for Canada, the U.S and France to lend them the same type of aircraft when a Russian submarine sailed into British waters. Although it may be just one small example, it highlights the severity of the issue and how serious the situation could potentially become.

To conclude, the Conservative government has left Britain’s armed forces desperately underfunded, leaving us under protected, and those who have been dedicated to serving our country underpaid and without enough support. In a survey conducted by the Express which saw over 2,100 responses, 95% of people agreed that the armed forces have been poorly treated and that more funding should be provided for them. In other words, 95% of people agree that Britain’s capability to defend itself is being sold away by a reckless government, who believe profit is more important than national security.

35 years ago, the United Kingdom went to war with Argentina after their invasion of the British Falkland Isles. 33 years ago, we triumphed over our aggressors, and thanks to our superior armed forces, the Falklands had been recaptured and Argentina had surrendered. Today, we would be powerless to stop them, should they invade once more.

By Ben Farrington