Should the Left Move Beyond Identity Politics?

Should the Left Move Beyond Identity Politics?

Articles, Opinion

The issue of identity politics has become a highly contested battleground over the past few years. It has always been a target of criticism from conservative politicians and commentators, however an increasing number of voices from within the left have begun to question this concept which has dominated mainstream liberal and leftist discourse for nearly two decades. Traditional class-based politics with an economic rather than social focus seem to have made a comeback, championed by Jeremy Corbyn in the UK and Bernie Sanders across the Atlantic, and the argument that the left needs to move beyond identity issues to cope with the new political landscape has been gaining traction in both the UK and US.

Should the Left Move Beyond Identity Politics?

picture from Thought Hub

Given that much of this debate has centred on the political culture in universities and colleges, this is an issue that directly affects young people all over the UK, and indeed all over the world. It is therefore important to understand the origins and nature of Identity politics, and examine its impact on both the left and the right. This is also an issue that has become increasingly difficult to understand as it is mired in confusing terminology and misrepresented arguments, so we should firstly define what the issue is.

Broadly, the term “identity politics” refers to a form of politics that focuses on the interests of social groups based on their identity as members of a particular race, gender, or ethnic group. There is, of course, nothing new about this as a concept – politicians have appealed to peoples’ sense of belonging and identity for as long as politics has existed. What is different about modern liberal identity politics is that its focus on oppressed minorities and social justice, which can be traced back to the radical movements that were active during the 20th century – socialism, feminism, LGBT rights, black rights, the labour movement, and the anti-war movement. These movements had mainly been a united left-wing front for most of that century, and found their way into the mainstream through the Labour Party. Following the extensive liberal reforms under Harold Wilson, which included a ban on racial discrimination in 1965 and the decriminalisation of homosexuality in 1967, social liberalism became more and more mainstream. This was further amplified by events in the US, such as the success of the Black Civil Rights movement.

When the pendulum swung to the right and the Reagan-Thatcher era began, the left faced somewhat of a crisis, and what followed was a move by the Democratic Party in the US and the Labour Party in the UK to the centre in terms of economic policy while fully embracing liberal identity politics. As a result, the left-wing base shifted from the unionized working class, which had traditionally been its main source of support, to middle class metropolitan liberals. Although this move allowed Labour to gain power in the 1997 elections, it shifted the party’s ideological foundation to a much weaker one and alienated many of its supporters.

Now that the Labour Party has been in opposition for seven years, and Jeremy Corbyn has been its leader for two years, it seems that traditional economic leftism is returning to the party, despite much resistance. A significant part of this resistance has been based on the idea that it is somehow incompatible with liberal identity politics – indeed, Corbyn has repeatedly been accused of misogyny, and condemned for not taking action to combat online abuse directed at women. This pattern was echoed to a great extent in the US, as the main line of attack used by the Clinton campaign against Bernie Sanders was that he and his supporters were sexist. This, of course, completely ignores the fact that Mrs. Clinton’s economic platform was almost as far to the right as the Republicans, which put off many young Democrats from supporting her.

However, one would be hard-pressed to find supporters of Jeremy Corbyn or Bernie Sanders that are actually sexist, excluding the online trolls who exist only to post inflammatory content and generate controversy. This isn’t to say that sexism within the left isn’t an issue, but essentially, no one on the left is arguing that we should abandon the fight for minority rights or gender equality. No one disputes the importance of social equality and justice. Rather, the problem is the way in which social issues have superseded actual policymaking and economic issues, and how much of political discourse, especially among the youth, has become saturated with platitudes about multiculturalism and side-tracked by arguments over fringe issues such as gender-neutral pronouns, while issues that affect the majority of people to a much larger extent, such as stagnating wages, are ignored. This was especially highlighted by the failure of the Remain campaign, which had placed a strong emphasis on attacking the racist elements of the Leave campaign but ultimately failed to address the predominantly economic concerns of people in the lower income brackets.
Furthermore, a troubling knee-jerk response to Brexit by many on the left was to criticise people of lower income and working-class backgrounds who voted Leave using sweeping generalisations such as labelling them racist.

Closer examination of Brexit also reveals a crucial flaw in the use of liberal identity politics as a political strategy – the right, especially the far-right, has always been better at using identity politics than the left will ever be. The right was quick to capitalise on all the weaknesses of liberal discourse, and by linking social issues such as immigration to the economy, was able to gain support from large sections of the working class. Another example of this is the now-widespread opposition to ‘political correctness’, which has become a rallying cry for many people all over the political spectrum even including moderates who fear that the left’s supposed obsession with controlling offensive language threatens freedom of speech. Regardless of how much this rallying cry depends on an exaggerated and caricatured version of ‘political correctness’, it is very effective. The implications of all this are clear: the left abandoned its roots, and has suffered for it.

The key to ‘moving beyond’ identity politics is to understand that people’s political interests are never limited to one factor, and that representing the interests of working class people doesn’t have to come at the expense of the interests of minorities. There is nothing wrong with focusing on specific issues that affect only a small number of people – it is in fact essential to do so sometimes – but it must not keep us from engaging with and understanding the bigger picture.

So where does this lead? Ideally, the revival of traditional leftism, as represented by Corbyn, Sanders, and others like them, will help guide the modern left towards to a form of politics better suited to facing the challenges of today – one that can represent the interests of working communities, the youth, and minorities in a more holistic and effective manner.

By Bilal Asghar

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

Exploring the Effects of Brexit on English Football

Exploring the Effects of Brexit on English Football

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s note – The unforeseen consequences of the decision to leave the European Union are endless. Brexiteers will argue that the majority of these consequences will be beneficial to the nation, whilst others will certainly disagree. One of the consequences that has not been widely discussed during, and since, the referendum is the effects that Brexit will have on football. In this article, Edd explores this issue, arguing that football here in Britain will not be the same when we leave the EU.

Exploring the Effects of Brexit on English Football

After the recent announcement that Football Manager, the long running and successful simulation game, has decided to include a ‘Brexit’ option in its new game, allowing players to realise the implications that leaving the European Union will have on English football, now seems a good time to properly explore and attempt to break down the countless implications that this political decision could have on what many people would still like to think of as an uncomplicated sport, a hobby and a game. The type of Brexit could vary depending on the choice made meaning if one chose a hard-line approach then they would experience a Britain after a hard Brexit and the same would happen with the softer approaches taken. But this also represents what will happen in the UK in a few years’ time after we conclude our negotiations to leave the EU. The severity of this would obviously influence many factors of British football, with key areas being summarised to the movement of players and the rules the governing body the FA may have to put in place, as well as any financial implications on the clubs, due to the new weakness of the pound.

So, work permits. Something every football manager player has nightmares about, what if you find the next Pele, or the new Messi (even better than Franco di Santo), but he can’t come and play for your Gillingham side because he was unable to ‘obtain a visa’. Well, imagine this happening for players coming from the continent. The repercussions are obvious: we’d only have to go back to last seasons premier league and realise that arguably the two best players of last season would not even have been playing in our league. These are French midfielder N’Golo Kante (signed by Leicester from SM Caen for €8 million) or winger Riyad Mahrez (also signed by Leicester from Le Havre). At the time, neither of these players were considered ‘special talents’, so if it were not for the freedom of movement within the EU they both would most likely have been denied entry. This lessens the quality of the league as a whole and could even have proved the difference between relegation and winning the league, a significant impact, therefore. However, this is a worst case scenario: there are still ways for non-EU players to play in England, but these methods must be examined before concluding Brexit as it may mean an end of foreign talent.

One way of looking at the lessening of foreign talent is in fact a positive one, weird I know. But it only takes a glance at the recent record of the English football team (haven’t won a knockout game in a major tournament since 2006) to know that there are problems with our national team. One answer to this problem is to give young English players more of a chance in the Premier League. Yes Mahrez was brilliant, but the man who provides back up to him in the Leicester team-Demarai Gray from Birmingham consistently proves himself to be a quality player, and maybe if he was given the same chances as Mahrez he would succeed. However many consider this argument to be flawed in numerous ways. For a start it is quite simply the same argument many Brexiteers used; ‘they’re taking our jobs’. This however isn’t the case. For one, there are already rules in place to encourage home-grown players – Premier League squads must have no more than 17 players that aren’t home-grown. Also there is already a premium price on British players (look no further than the £35 million Liverpool paid for Andy Carroll in 2011), and so furthering the need for clubs to buy them would only put this up. In short we cannot blame other nations for our national teams problems, if clubs wanted English players at the right price they will buy them, the problem is they’re not always as good.

Another supposed positive with this work permit issue is that rational politicians should see the positive financial impact that the foreign talent in the Premier League and the revenue it has brings into our economy. Premier League television rights sold for £5.14 billion in the UK alone last year, and they have separate deals abroad. Reducing foreign imports would significantly reduce this, and therefore reduce the tax revenue available to the government. To prove this many experts do expect work permit rules to be watered down, as they are in non-EU countries such as Switzerland and Norway, so we can gain access to the single market. The unlikeliness of large work permit issues was further backed up by Dr Gregory Ioannidis, a senior law lecturer from Sheffield Hallam University, as he said he did not envisage “any serious problems and complications” in the short-term, if Britain left the European Union, and that it was “highly unlikely” any restrictions would apply retrospectively, at least not in the first 2-3 years, showing how common sense could prevail in the work permit department, and lead to a limited effect.

Another way Brexit could impact on the Premier League is through the inflation and devaluation of the pound it has caused. Players have begun to realise they are able to earn more money playing on the continent, and this has a rather larger impact than at first thought, as the unfortunate truth is that the reason many players join clubs in the Premier League is primarily for the money. Perhaps the most worrying evidence for this comes for Arsenal fans, as top stars Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez both come to the end of their contracts their demands have seemingly gone up from a £180,000 a week salary to £250,000 a week, with the declining value of the pound seemingly one of the main factors. This will also affect transfer fees, as West Ham’s €40m offer to buy Marseille’s Michy Batshuayi was worth £31m when sent, but only days later equated to more than £34m. Overall the implications of this are obvious, the quality of the players the league attracts will decrease, and long term this could have gradual implications on the viewership of it, leading to the value of it to the British economy lessening.

Interestingly, almost a year on, it is true that the price of players moving to the Premier League has risen astoundingly in the last year or two, especially this summer, with deals such as Chelsea’s purchase of Alvaro Morata for over £65 million. However, the impact of Brexit on these specific fee’s can be undermined by two factors. One, some of the most high profile transfers have come from outside the UK this summer, such as Neymar’s move to PSG for over £200 million, proving there is perhaps not such as huge impact on UK deals to and from abroad. As well as this there has been equally as inflated deals within the Premier League, like Romelu Lukaku’s £75 million move to Manchester United, and Manchester City’s purchase of Kye Walker for £50 million, these intra league deals show that as of yet, Brexit has not largely impacted on the scale of transfer fees in the Premier League, and instead these huge price hikes can be put down to the aforementioned TV sponsorship deals signed before the 2016/2017 season, so while it is of course possible Brexit could impact the transfer fees of the Premier League, as of yet it hasn’t. Of course we still haven’t left.

Overall therefore, it is true the effects of Brexit on transfer fees haven’t taken full impact, despite the marginal effect of inflation. On top of this we must wait until the nature of Brexit to see the true impact of the work permit changes. But as a keen Football Manager player I have witnessed first hand the mayhem a hard Brexit can cause, especially for the smaller Premier League clubs who can no longer unearth gems, and so we shall see.

 

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – In this article, written by Michael, an analysis of the influential role that ‘dark money’ can play in modern day politics, especially here in the UK and US, is made. Money fuels the economy, but to what extent does it fuel politics?

The Role of Dark Money in Politics

We are all, to some extent, afraid of the dark. Whether it stems from fear of imaginary monsters, to a fear of criminals lurking in the shadows ready to deprive you of your dearly earned possessions, or even your life, we all have our own reasons to fear the dark. We humans as a species have feared the dark for millennia, stretching back to the dawn of man when we discovered fire, in order to warm us, and of course, fend off the darkness of the encroaching night. It is clear to say, that the word itself, dark, has deeply negative connotations.

So what is “Dark money”? From the title, you can guess it is no benevolent thing, and it is not. It is one of, in my opinion, the most severe threats to democracy as we know it and it is not a problem faced only in the USA but here in Britain as well. Dark money refers to money that is given by undisclosed donors to non-profit political organisations which is then spent on trying to influence your vote (that is, if you can vote). Essentially, it’s money given by anonymous donors who seek to buy the election. People use dark money to buy the election; and they sometimes succeed.

The US is probably one of the most notorious examples of dark money influencing politics. Wealthy billionaires or corporations fund vast organisations known as SuperPACs (PAC standing for Political Action Committee. They can’t officially coordinate with the campaign of any candidate, but it’s not really too hard to write and pay to air ads that favour of them/attack their opponent) and 501(c) groups (non-profit, politically active groups who don’t have to disclose their donors or pay taxes, as long as their primary activity isn’t politics. In practise, this means less than 50% total expenditure on politics) who pay for ads, staff, voter database analysis, door-to-door knocking, etc. for candidates that the shadowy donors back. The mechanics of dark money are complex, but the basics boil down to this (in the US at least). 501 (c) groups receive an anonymous donation. Now, the group must adhere to spending below the limit of 49.9% of their total budget on political activities. What happens is that multiple 501 (c) groups coordinate money transfers between one another, inflating their expenditures, and thus allowing them to spend more than the limit on political activity. This network of organisations obscures both the organisations’ budget, but also helps obscure who the original donor was. A SuperPAC can spend any amount it wants on politics, but must, however, disclose their donors. The true genius comes in when 501 (c) groups donate the money they received to the SuperPAC, thus the SuperPAC can spend all this clean, legal money that the 501 (c)s can’t, whilst the 501 (c) is listed as the donor to the SuperPAC, thus anonymising the true donor.

This is vastly different to how the dark money situation in the UK works, and is also merely a basic overview (I have left out vast chunks of the mechanisms), but is an, in my opinion, an interesting insight into the sort of mechanics and loopholes dark money exploits, and gives an idea of what dark money involves. Whilst the dark money situation in the US is far worse than in the UK; we have electoral agents through which all money spent by the candidate is monitored, and unlike the US post Buckley v. Valeo, there is a limit on how much each candidate can spend; £7150, plus 5p for every registered voter in the borough, or 7p in a county. We aren’t however, immune from the influence of dark money in the UK.

Under the Political Parties, Elections, and Referendums Act of 2000, all donations £7,500+ must be reported (lump sum or multiple totalling to), or £1500+ if from a source reported prior in the same year. This act (PPERA) also prohibits donations from “impermissible sources”, or sources that are unknown. These legal requirements of disclosing publically who donated the money, and also knowing who donated the money, don’t apply to Northern Ireland. You may ask yourself why, and the reason is simple; terrorism. During the period of civil unrest known as the Troubles in NI, there was intense domestic terrorism there. Parliament decided that, in the interests of safety, political parties in Northern Ireland don’t need to disclose publically who gave them a donation, in order to protect the donor, who could become a target for the IRA or UFF as a result of their donation.

This exists for good reason; to protect lives and allow for freedom of expression whilst maintaining one’s freedom from fear. The DUP, who you may have heard of, have bastardised the spirit of this provision, and allowed the entry of dark money. In 2016, the DUP, a pro-Brexit party, decided to buy four pages of advertisements in the Metro newspaper, promoting Brexit and the Leave campaign, a move totalling £282,000. It would be arguable that this was perfectly fine, and the DUP were entitled to buy the ad, but for the fact that the Metro doesn’t publish in Northern Ireland. This begs the question-why did the DUP buy the ad in the first place? It clearly had no benefit to the DUP, as no one who could vote for the DUP would read the ads. For many the answer is simple; through the DUP, unknown, anonymous donors could funnel vast sums of money to press for a Leave result, without fear of being publically disclosed. This is more than speculation however; we know where the £282,000 came from; a DUP MP admitted the ad was funded by a £425,000 donation from a croup known as the Constitutional Research Council, headed by a Scottish business man, Richard Cook. Where the CRC got their money from is not public knowledge, and there has been much baseless speculation in regards to its origin.

It doesn’t really matter where the money came from, and really who paid for it. It probably didn’t even affect the referendum result-far more important factors came into play there, such as misinformation from the Leave campaign, anger at the establishment, the immigration debate, etc. What really makes me worry is that it sets a dangerous precedent; this time, it may have not affected us much, and was a relatively meagre sum compared to how much was spent in total by both sides (£32 million+), but it potentially could lead to the encouragement of more dark money flowing into our elections in the future. This was not the sole example of dark money in UK politics; Robert Mercer’s firm Cambridge Analytica was alleged by some to have also tried to influence the Brexit vote, and the now dissolved charity Atlantic Bridge are both other examples of dark money in UK politics.

Ultimately, we should prevent such things from happening here, and rein in unlimited, anonymous political spending. Some argue that this would be a violation of free speech; I would argue that using your financial power to speak louder than others drowns out those who don’t have the resources to do so, and violates the free speech of the many. Going back to the US, engraved on the US Supreme Court building is the motto “Equal justice under law”. Here, we must ensure everyone has a free, but equal, voice. Democracy is the rule of the people. In a world where dark money is allowed free reign, we can no longer be sure whether or not we are a democracy anymore, or are a mere plutocracy.

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s note –  The complicated role that trade unions play within the current political climate is analysed in this article, sent in by Tara. She makes the case that Len McCluskey, the leader of the trade union ‘Unite’, should not take his strong relationship with Jeremy Corbyn for granted…

The Future of British Union Power: Striking a Balance

Trade Union: an organized association of workers in a trade, group of trades, or profession, formed to protect and further their rights and interests.

The power of the oppressed worker, trampled on by a flood of globalization, cheated by faceless foreigners, has become a rather romanticized notion in British politics. The weathered and weary faces of the likes of Corbyn and Farage, promising something better, have failed to deliver thus far. Maybe this is why Unite leader Len McCluskey has declared that he will consider illegal strikes over public sector pay, breaking turnout rules needed to qualify a strike as legitimate, that were brought in by the Conservative Party. As pressing as worker concerns may be, supporting illegal action will signal the end of union power at a time where it is needed more than ever. This tactic has been adopted by a union leader previously renound for his support of Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. From funding his leadership bid, to offering his support to the Labour General Election campaign, it is undoubtedly true that Corbyn would not have seen his unexpected success without the backing of Unite. However, it is untenable for Corbyn to support illegal actions by the unions as this would undermine his own role as a lawmaker.

Therefore, by making this announcement McCluskey is cutting himself off from the conventional route of patronage that he was previously successfully pursuing to grow union power in Britain. This is problematic in two ways. Firstly, it signals to political parties that unions are an unreliable or politically toxic form of base support. Relying so much on unions already drew a lot of criticism for Corbyn and by making unions illegal, outsider institutions, this kind of action will only add to the disincentives of future political figures to listen to union concerns and make them a key player in the decision making progress. Secondly, it alienates public support as people begin to label striking workers as militant and unreasonable. This means they are less likely to back any given strike, making it easier for the government to brush off the issues that underpinned it without voters objecting. Not only will the illegal strikes undermine the key mechanisms of support for unions, but they are also not even likely to be effective. If a government were to give in to an organization that had so publicly declared breaking the law as one of its tactics, this would only encourage other unions and groups to adopt the same tactics to get results for their causes. It will always seem easier to a government to wait out one illegal strike than to set a precedent for more of the same in the future. By undertaking illegal actions, strikers leave the government with no choice but to reject their concerns.

At best, McCluskey’s new stance will create fragments of legislation in the short-term, but in the long-term unions need crucial partisan and public support to achieve a voice for their members and this cannot happen with illegal striking as a tactic. In the context of a Britain that is leaving the EU and losing many of the worker safety nets that have been so crucial over the past few decades, it is more important than ever that union leaders act pragmatically, rather than being swept along in a haze of justice seeking anger. There is no question that life is getting harder for the average worker and that the people that Len McCluskey represents are being let down by the modern British economy. But turning against the law is not the solution. Continuing a system of pursuing legislation, lobbying, growing public awareness and direct involvement in political parties is the only hope that Unite has. McClusky would be foolish to throw away the symbiotic relationship he has developed with Jeremy Corbyn, because if he does so, he will be signing the death warrant of union power for good.

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – Is there a way of reuniting the ‘United’ Kingdom? In this opinion article, Rowan puts forward his suggestion as to how we solve the feeling of isolation that has clouded politics for too long and why we should all embrace federalism…

The Future is Federal – How Federalism could save the UK

Federalism – the distribution of power in an organization (such as a government) between a central authority and constituent units.

In 1707 the first Act of Union was passed in parliament and the United Kingdom of Great Britain was established. In 1800, the union was expanded to include the Kingdom of Ireland and, after years of struggle to secure home rule, the southern part of Ireland fell away to form the Irish Free State in 1922; leaving the UK in its current form comprised of England, Scotland Wales and Northern Ireland. In 1998, the Union underwent a major democratic advancement. For what was almost 300 years of Union, the nations of the UK had been without a democratic voice in their own countries. This changed with the devolution of a parliament to Scotland and assemblies to Wales and Northern Ireland. From this point forward these elected legislatures have relied on devolution, promises from central government which give more powers to these bodies.

However, this is an intrinsically flawed system of government. Westminster has no obligation to provide the devolved parliament and assemblies with the powers that are promised and this can lead to anger, discontent and, as seen recently in Scotland, cries of independence from the union. By embracing federalism, the inefficiency and confusion of devolutionary government could be resolved. The definition of Federalism is ‘the distribution of power within an organisation’ and it is a system not just adopted by the USA. Federalism differs from devolution in that the powers and capabilities of the sub-divisions of government are enshrined in constitutional law and are in no way controlled by or reliant upon the central government.

My vision for federalism is, as far as I am aware, utterly unique; forget your ideas of the USA and its 50 states because here they would be inapplicable. This is because the United Kingdom is unique. Nowhere else have four different cultures been squashed together in such a way that they are all still considered separate nations within a nation and this must be represented. Therefore, a federal United Kingdom would require four fully autonomous parliaments in Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and England, the one nation which has received no devolution, save for London and some metropolitan mayors in major cities. These Parliaments would have full control over taxation and other fiscal policy, allowing for the nations to healthily compete for business and create a varied economy within a country that can suit the needs of every British citizen.

One issue of our centralist system of government is the existence of regional neglect. This quite simply equates to central government’s incapability to address the issues and problems within a specific region or regions. A federal system would establish official legislative regions in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland and expand London’s regional assembly system across the other nine regions of England and the new administrative regions within the other three nations. Such a system would allow for local people to elect representatives to deal solely with regional affairs that would be too insignificant for a sole central government to address and too complicated for the largely ineffective local councils to address. These representatives would also work together in their local areas or wards with other representatives from nearby areas and local people; so as to fulfil the role left by the removal of the centrist and ineffective local council system.

A final matter to address is the central government itself. If there are autonomous parliaments and regional assemblies, what is the point of a central government? Quite simply to represent the country on the international stage and preserve the United Kingdom as a single country. The central government would be elected by a party list system of proportional representation. This would mean that the party itself would be elected and effective experts and experienced decision makers could be appointed democratically in order to check the laws passed in the lower parliaments; essentially making the unelected House of Lords redundant in its purpose and able to be disbanded. This parliament would be responsible for international relations, including diplomacy and international negotiation, the military and relations between the 4 nations, with a federal secretary appointed to represent the central parliament in each parliament.
To summarise a federal system of government, if established in the UK would allow for the union to survive into the future and would allow for the regional issues and the national issues facing the United Kingdom to be resolved very quickly and very efficiently.

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – The following opinion article has been sent in by Katie. She passionately argues that the West, and Britain in particular, need to do more to assist and welcome refugees. Do you agree, or are we already doing too much?

Should Britain be a place for refugees to call home?

NY Daily News

Today across the world there are more than 22 million refugees. These are men, women and children who are fleeing persecution and bloody conflict and who find themselves very quickly alone, with no place to go. Currently the United Kingdom is home to approximately 118,900 refugees, many of whom have not been successfully integrated into our society. This is an unacceptable number and situation. The British economy is the fifth largest in the world which means it has the resources to take care of many of the refugees that are in great need of a home. Even so, many people in the UK, and Europe as a whole, are apprehensive about the introduction of refugees to their cities and towns. Why is it that xenophobia is defeating moral decency and hatred reigns far above compassion?

People are afraid that refugees entering the UK will have a negative effect on our economy, jobs availability and that some could even be members of Daesh (so-called Islamic State). These fears and misconceptions have led to a hostility towards refugees which is based upon fragile evidence and very limited facts. Professor Alexander Betts, Director of Refugee Studies at Oxford University, used his 2014 study entitled ‘Refugee Economies: Rethinking Popular Assumptions’ to outline the economic reasons as to why hosting refugees is beneficial. He concluded that as most European countries are currently facing the issues of an ageing workforce and declining birth rate they would benefit greatly from an increased youth population. The refugee crisis provides this opportunity as over half of those who have been forced to escape from their home countries are under the age of 18.

Not only would Britain benefit from the manpower of refugees, but they would also make financial gains due to refugees potential purchasing power and ability to create employment opportunities. Refugees engage in trade and entrepreneurship and it has been widely agreed that the impact of refugees on a host nation’s economy relies not on the refugees themselves but on the policies of the host nation. If Britain allows for swift integration of refugees into society, encouraging their education and involvement in the workforce, the positive impact of refugees on the economy will much sooner than if refugees remain segregated from the rest of the society. This tendency of refugees to remain separated may stem from hostility that some British people have towards refugees as they fear those from countries such as Syria and Iraq could be members of Daesh. This is once again a misconception and the facts are that many of the refugees from those nations are fleeing the brutal persecution of the terrorist group.

Britain has a moral obligation to welcome refugees. They are people who would be at great risk if they returned to their home countries, many of whom have already suffered devastating personal loss. Women who have suffered rape at the hands of violent militants and men who have watched as their young child drown in the treacherous Mediterranean Sea. The figures show that 8,500 people have either died or gone missing on the journey across the sea since three-year-old Alan Kurdi’s body washed ashore in 2015. All those people and their families were making the most dangerous journey in the attempt to reach safer and more welcoming lands. Instead they are met by neglected camps in Europe, police brutality in Britain and animosity everywhere. This harsh treatment of refugees and asylum seekers is completely intolerable and British Citizens and authorities should keep in mind the response they would expect if this country was up in flames.

This need for change is even more vital as another refugee crisis unfolds, with Rohingya Muslims fleeing from radical Buddhists in Myanmar to the neighboring Bangladesh. Once again makeshift camps are being set up, able to take in only a proportion of the 35,000 people that are arriving every day. But meanwhile the West watches and does nothing. People have no place to live, no access to medicine and no running water but Britain does not offer a helping hand. This country needs to change its path, stop being insular and instead look out to the world and help.

Are Feminists ‘Man Haters’?

Are Feminists ‘Man Haters’?

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s Note – In this passionate opinion article, Mariam makes the case that feminism has been portrayed in an unfair and untrue light, and should distance itself from the popular misconception that it is related to misandry.

Are Feminists ‘Man Haters’?

The misconceptions surrounding feminism are something I find very alarming. The number of people who are unaware of what feminism means or represents is shocking, and this has led to the miscommunications of its ideas and values. By far the most popular misconception is the idea that feminists are misandrists. This is simply untrue. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, feminism is “a belief in the social, political and economic equality of the sexes”. Misandry on the other hand is defined by the oxford dictionary as an “ingrained prejudice against men”. These two definitions show that the two sets of beliefs are not only different, but also mutually exclusive. A feminist cannot be a misandrist, so why are people so confused, and where does this link between feminism and misandry come from?

In some dictionaries feminism is also interpreted as the support for women’s rights and it is this definition that is responsible for a lot of confusion. The two definitions have vastly different meanings, one supporting equality between the sexes and the other siding with women only. In short, the feminist movement comprises of a collection of perspectives, some of which contradict each other. Misandry has become just another perspective on feminism that no feminist, by its definition, identifies with. This has led to the mislabeling of misandrists as feminists and consequentially the link has been formed.

Misandry has now, to an extent, been normalised within feminism through humour. It has become a joke that women are supposed to identify with. For example, a common phrase associated with the feminist movement you may have heard is ‘ban men’, and you can even buy T-shirts and bracelets with phrases such as these or the word ‘misandrist’ printed on them. Whilst these phrases hold little truth and are often expressed in retaliation to misogynist views, the irony and humorous element is all too often lost. However well intended the use of misandry is, its inherent meaning is hatred, and the justification that the right type of man will understand is simply unconvincing. If men were to start wearing T-shirts with the word ‘misogynist’ printed on them, there would most likely be outrage, so why are we not only allowing but welcoming misandry?

Feminists don’t hate men. What feminists truly hate is the patriarchy, the systemic oppression of women, and to overcome this obstacle and achieve equality more people need to be involved. Telling half the population that we hate them is no way to do that. In fact, it is entirely counterproductive. According to a poll carried out by Huffington Post, only 16% of men would describe themselves as feminists, and surely even fewer would find misandry funny or appealing. The toxic attitude that has started to grow within feminism is only preventing the feminist movement from reaching its sole aim of absolute gender equality. Appealing to the sense of humour of a minority is a great way to alienate the majority and cause a miscommunication of beliefs and values. This is what has happened within feminism. This has not only led to the stigma surrounding the word and the reluctance to be associated with it, but in fact nearly a fifth of people use ‘feminist’ as an insult, according to the Independent.

The use of misandry within feminism has damaged its reputation and how others view it. This in turn has prevented the growth of a very important movement. The two ideas need to be completely separated. Having misandry come under the label of feminism has caused confusion and contempt toward a perfectly acceptable notion. I believe it should have no place in the movement if it is to progress.

Education for the many or just one more perk for the few?

Education for the many or just one more perk for the few?

Articles, Opinion

Editor’s note – In this eloquently written article, our head of articles Lucy Higginbotham analyses Jeremy Corbyn’s policy to scrap tuition fees, one which was central to the Labour campaign during the 2017 General Election. Does the policy really succeed in fulfilling its aims of providing education for the many or just one more perk for the few?

Education for the many or just one more perk for the few?

Leading up to the 2017 general election, Jeremy Corbyn outlined how he planned to reduce inequality in the UK. The Labour manifesto had a chapter dedicated to education, which reflected the party’s endeavour to attract the support of young voters. A policy targeted specifically at young people was his aim to abolish university tuition fees, which did not appear on the manifesto of any other major party.

The Labour party also promised to reintroduce maintenance grants for students, which the Conservatives had previously replaced with loans. Whereas the average student now graduates with debts of over £50,000, under a Labour government many people who otherwise would not be able to afford the living costs associated with attending university would have received financial support from the government.
Corbyn put across a moral argument for free higher education, saying that “no one should be put off educating themselves for lack of money or through fear of debt”. Most people, if not all, would agree that it is wrong for someone to lose out on this opportunity simply due to their socioeconomic status which is entirely out of their control.

However, many young people are already disadvantaged with regards to their education before they reach university age. Someone who can afford to attend a private school, or someone who can afford to live in the catchment area for a grammar school or an above-average state school has a far greater chance of obtaining the grades, skill set and advice that would give them a chance of gaining a place at university. This suggests that someone of a middle-class background would still be more likely to attend university than someone from a working-class background, regardless of the cost. If this is the case, does it mean that, instead of giving everyone a fair chance of going to university, the abolition of tuition fees would in fact only save the money of the middle-class students who were already able and willing to pay? Is this a way of removing the barrier that many people face in progressing to the next level of education, or just an unnecessary bonus for the few at the top?

Even if there was convincing evidence that the abolition of tuition fees would reduce inequality, one must still take into account the immense cost of free higher education for all. In total, Labour’s plans to abolish tuition fees and reintroduce maintenance grants would result in an increased overall cost to the Exchequer of £9.062 billion per cohort. This is obviously a vast sum of money, and, understandably, many would argue that this is not the best way to spend taxpayers’ money. For example, free higher education is unlikely to appeal to older generations who might want their money to go towards improving the NHS, and some young people would rather see more affordable housing for first-time buyers so they can get on the housing ladder. Is it fair to spend public money on something that many members of the public feel they don’t want or need?

One argument is that a more educated population would be beneficial to the country as a whole, not just those who were being educated. But are some degrees better for the public than others? Some might advocate for the sponsorship of only certain degrees that provide essential qualifications that are required for positions that need to be filled in the public sector. However, deciding which courses would be deemed “useful” would cause controversy, and ultimately this would go against the principle of offering equal opportunities for everyone, because it would only benefit the people who wanted to pursue certain careers, and people would still be prevented from studying what they wanted to study by cost.

Corbyn clearly hoped to win the support of younger voters with this promise, as well as showing that Labour were willing to invest in the country’s future. But is it rightfully popular, or simply a populist policy proposed by Labour in an attempt to claw their way up in the polls?

By Lucy Higginbotham
Head of Articles, YouthPolitics UK