Thursday, 29 December 2011

Rick Perry, Texan Villain

Rick Perry has announced that he now considers nearly all forms of abortion wrong. According to the Texan governor, a woman who has been raped by her own brother should be prohibited from having an abortion. Of course, Rick Perry was never going to win the award for being liberal of the year. He has overseen too many executions and released too many anti-gay adverts for that. 

This is a man who said he had no worries about the fact he had permitted over 234 executions in Texas. One of those who was executed, Todd Willingham, is now considered by experts to have actually been innocent. For a man who apparently respects life so much that a raped teenager cannot abort an unwanted foetus, it is surprising that he has such a penchant for punishment of the capital variety.

If Perry isn’t done with curtailing women’s rights and killing people he can move onto gay bashing. In his infamous television advert ‘Strong’, Perry swaggers through woodland sporting a cheeky smile and what looks suspiciously like Heath Ledger’s outfit from Brokeback Mountain. He then intones, ‘I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm a Christian’.

It’s good to know that in a country like the United States of America Perry is not ashamed to admit he is a Christian. We must all consider how it’s a really hard thing for a governor of Texas running to be the Republican Presidential nominee to announce that he is a Christian. I wonder if, through this perpetual struggle to be recognised and respected for who he truly is, Rick Perry finds some empathy for other people who aren’t ashamed to tell others about themselves?

As he strolls through the beautiful woodland to the sounds of some ridiculous music Perry gets to the heart of his message:

‘…you don't need to be in the pew every Sunday to know there's something wrong in this country when gays can serve openly in the military but our kids can't openly celebrate Christmas or pray in school.’

The dreadful image of a Christian country crumbling at the hands of hordes of immoral gays is one which haunts so many Republican minds. For only this can explain the sheer amount of political energy spent beating back a tiny minority they have probably never met who only want the same rights as everyone else. Perry realises this and ‘Strong’ conjures this recurring nightmare. How can gays serve in the military when children can’t celebrate Christmas? President Obama has such an inversion of values. He must be an atheist or a Muslim or something!

Friday, 2 December 2011

The Republican Party

Written before Newt Gingrich's surge in the polls.
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Rick Perry has again added to the long list of faux pas committed by Texas governors. Perry and Republican Party front-runner for President, Mitt Romney, both demonstrate how far to the right the Grand Old Party has moved.

In a debate on the 9th November, Perry forgot the third government agency he was planning to abolish if elected President. In describing his plan to remove three federal departments Perry said, “It’s three agencies of government, that when I get there, are gone. Commerce, Education, and the uh uh what’s the third one there?” Try as he might the name of this third, apparently worthless department, eluded him until ten minutes later he finally remembered it was the Department of Energy. The Texan’s slip up is perhaps the final straw for his campaign.

We can all be thankful that Rick Perry is one step less close to the Presidency. This is a man who said that he had no worries about the fact he had overseen over 234 executions in Texas. Considering one of the executed, Todd Willingham, is now considered by experts to have actually been innocent, Perry’s statement that he has never worried about executing an innocent man is worrying. Stunningly the reason he is unpopular with Republicans are because of his slip-ups in debates and not his penchant for capital punishment. This tells us something about the Republican Party of today.

Alongside Perry, other candidates that have slipped behind in the polls include Michelle Bachman, who described active homosexuality as ‘personal enslavement’ and Rick Santorum, who wants to teach intelligent design in schools. For a liberal who believed that Sarah Palin was beyond the pale, it seems that Bachman and Santorum are so extreme that they may be considered beyond the Palin.

Mitt Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, is only slightly ahead in the polls and is considered on the moderate wing of the Party. Indeed this explains why it has been difficult for him to gain enough momentum to become the unchallenged front-runner. The powerful Tea Party contingent within the Republican Party has found it difficult to forgive Romney’s gubernatorial forays into moderate politics. Romney has been moderate on abortion and gay rights, and the healthcare system he introduced in Massachusetts is considered very similar to President Obama’s. In a national election Romney’s centrism would be an advantage because it would attract swing voters. However in a Republican party that has moved so far to the right these moderate policies are anathema.

Also, significantly Romney himself is not especially moderate in key areas. He has signed the Tea Party’s pledge to not raise any new taxes. Since Romney is similarly obsessed about the USA’s debt levels, this means his only option for eliminating government debt is to reduce public spending.

When Romney is meant to be the reasonable face of the Republican Party, and Governor Perry’s extreme actions are accepted, it makes one worry about the state of the Republican Party.

Wednesday, 30 November 2011

Ed Miliband and the regeneration of political parties


I wrote this for the Leeds University student magazine Lippy.
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There’s been much written about the nasality of his voice, but not a lot on the quite radical nature of Ed Miliband’s politics. For a long time Britain’s political elite has given scant regard to whom our largely unrestrained capitalism is rewarding. The assumption has been that it helps us all, but we are witnessing the world economy teetering on the edge of recession, and the richest and wealthiest seem to be escaping the squeezed living standards everyone else is suffering. Amidst this Ed Miliband has claimed that ‘in every generation, there comes a moment when we need to change the way we do things. This is one of those moments.’1  He believes the Labour Party needs to offer new solutions to meet the problems Britain face.

Miliband is armed with two reasons for proposing a changed Labour Party. Firstly, New Labour, under Blair and Brown, became unpopular; its raison d’etre was to win elections but this came to an ignominious end at the 2010 General Election. Miliband thinks he will have to look beyond New Labour to win back power. Secondly, Britain’s neo-liberal economic order doesn’t seem to be serving the people. The current mix of free markets, gaping inequality and light regulation is not delivering. Is there an alternative? Ed Miliband believes he has one.

It is Miliband’s hope that he can regenerate the Labour party both to win voters and to solve underlying problems Britain face. Since the 1970s there have been two clear demonstrations of successful regenerations of political parties. One example being the actions of Margaret Thatcher, who radically changed her party because she believed only neo liberal economics, could save Britain from its economic problems. The other example is the regeneration Labour underwent in the 1980s and 90s when Kinnock, Smith and ultimately Blair, modernised and moderated their party, to win back public support.

In the 1970s, like today, there was a perception that Britain wasn’t working. It ended in the infamous ‘Winter of Discontent’, in which many public sector workers, including refuse collectors and gravediggers, went on strike. As the rubbish and coffins piled up, combined with high inflation and unemployment, the Labour government was unsurprisingly unpopular. Thatcher believed she had a solution, and it flied in the face of the status quo. Even Conservative leaders like Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath had accepted the post-war economic consensus, but it seemed to be crumbling amidst crisis. Thatcher’s vision for Britain was very different. It was of a Britain with lower tax rates, light regulation and weaker trade unions, and this framework has survived ever since. The Conservative Party changed because Thatcher believed the country required new solutions. Although Miliband may not envisage as far reaching changes as Thatcher, he is a leader in the mould of Thatcher, in the sense that he is does not accept the economic status quo.

The Labour Party in the 80s and 90s engaged in political regeneration for a different reason. After Thatcher’s victory in 1979, Labour moved leftwards under Michael Foot, but this proved unelectable. After writing a manifesto described as ‘the longest suicide note in history’ and plummeting to 27.6% in the 1983 General Election, Labour realised it had to gain the centre ground. Neil Kinnock sieved the party of its ultra left tendencies and removed its most left wing and unpopular policies like unilateral nuclear disarmament.

The Labour Party was renewing itself. This change was complete with the ascension of Tony Blair and New Labour. New Labour accepted the framework Thatcher laid out; privatised industries, the banking sector unregulated and trade unions relatively powerless. They accepted it, because they believed Labour could only win elections if it moved to the right, and they also believed Thatcher’s economic changes worked. The system generated a lot of wealth, and the government was able to redistribute some of it to the worst off. The system appeared sustainable and desirable. As Peter Mandelson put it in 1998, New Labour “are intensely relaxed about people getting filthy rich as long as they pay their taxes.”2

Although Miliband and his team wish to change Britain’s economy because he believes it’s what Britain needs, he also feels Labour must win back supporters who grew disillusioned with New Labour. He believes the public are sceptical of current inequalities and the way bankers enjoy large bonuses. A recent biography explains how Miliband’s political positions ‘reflect a distinct and different ideology to both Blair and Brown but they are based on Ed’s robust analysis of what Labour needs to do in order to win back voters and be re-elected.’3

Although Miliband has not announced many concrete policies there are indications of how he differs to New Labour. Miliband pinpoints ‘a system of irresponsible, predatory capitalism’ as the cause of our economic woes. British capitalism needs to be altered and geared towards ‘productive, responsible behaviour which benefits business and most people in the long term’. 4 One of his policies is breaking up the largest energy companies to drive prices down.

Whether Miliband will be successful in his ambitions for the Labour Party depends on whether the current system continues failing. The unpopularity of the Coalition is due to a low level of growth, high unemployment and public sector cuts. Miliband’s best bet for successfully regenerating his party is for the Conservatives to stagnate the economy to an election defeat.

However, some commentators believe Miliband’s move to the left will prove unpopular. The reason New Labour was invented is because a more left wing Labour party seemed unelectable. They believe this is still the case and the British public will dismiss Miliband’s vision of restrained capitalism. They believe the name ‘Red Ed’ will hang around the head of this reformer and drag him to electoral defeat. To overcome this Miliband has to show he is not arguing for a return to socialism, but a more responsible capitalism. He will also have to demonstrate to the public that Labour can be trusted on the economy. This could be the most difficult feat for him.

All in all, Miliband is showcasing ‘a clear grasp of our national predicament’.5 He is offering a real political change. Winning over the electorate will be the tough part, but as history proves, game changing Party leaders can succeed.


Sunday, 27 November 2011

Nick Clegg Interview

On Friday 25th November, I interviewed the Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg. It was for the Sheffield University Union online politics magazine/journal Canvas.

Listen here

Sunday, 20 November 2011

Occupy Sheffield


Occupation Sheffield


By Ben Mackay

The occupation outside Sheffield Cathedral joins around a thousand tent villages that have recently sprung up around the world. Sheffield’s own occupation is far smaller than the protest outside St Paul’s, but its twenty tents are conspicuously situated on Church Street.

The Occupy protestors describe themselves as representing ‘the 99%’. Protesting against public sector cuts and growing inequality within society their original statement claims that ‘we need alternatives; this is where we work towards them.’ Although the Occupy movement has been criticised for failing to articulate what these alternatives are, members of the movement argue that the protest is about sparking a discussion. Leslie, a sixty six year old campaigning veteran describes the Occupation as a ‘dissenting, rebellious presence’ to ‘galvanise their [the public’s] imaginations about how to create a society with real social justice’.

There is definitely unease about the state of the world economy. As incomes stagnate and bonuses balloon, there is a general feeling that capitalism is geared towards the richest in society. However, there is also discomfort about the location of the Occupation. One lady who passed by the tents, although critical of the government, said that the protesters ‘need to be in London, in Westminster’. Many people wonder why a protest aimed at the financial elite is situated on the land of the Church. Indeed Sheffield Cathedral has not given the occupation permission, but has said it does ‘respect the protestor’s right to make their voice heard’.

According to the occupation there are practical reasons for protesting outside the cathedral because it is more difficult to remove them. Also they are close to a number of banks and Cutler’s Hall, a building frequented by many of Sheffield's wealthiest citizens. For the foreseeable future at least those in the centre of Sheffield cannot fail to see the tents and protestors that have appeared in the wake of our Cathedral

           

Tuesday, 30 August 2011

The big society and Clement Attlee

The 'big society' is David Cameron's political passion, a vision for Britain in which a slimmed down state sits amidst contented citizens volunteering in their local communities. The Prime Minister hopes to see a Britain in which more and more individuals come together, perhaps to run youth centres which help disaffected youths or to raise funds for an inter-cultural festival. People will join together in harmonious ways and all shall be happy across the land, or at least that is the hope. Charity and volunteering undoubtedly have their place in today's Britain; both because they help others and they contribute to the strenghening of communal bonds. However, there is a point at which the time and money each person freely contributes to helping their community comes to an end, because people have only so much time and money they want to volunteer. Also, many people's charitable spirit is already eaten up by living their own arduous lives. In asking people to become energetic members of the big society, Cameron demonstrates a dim understanding of many modern families if he expects them to add this to scraping a living and raising a family.


The fact that the public only enlarge society to a certain extent exists with the fact that societal problems persist. Even though it is questionable how many will be recruited by a Conservative government urging the British public to volunteer more than they already are, there will be national ills exacerbated by a state that is withdrawing from the scene.


Clement Attlee’s life story provides an interesting example of how a big society in it's purest form,  ultimately fails, and how only the power of the state is enough to eliminate certain societal problems. Clement Attlee was Labour Prime Minister from 1945 – 51, and is considered one of the greatest prime ministers of all time. However long before he entered politics and the winding road that would end in him enacting some of the most radical legislation this country has ever seen, he was a volunteer at a youth centre called Haileybury House, in the East End of London. This club for working class youth was built in 1890 amidst the slums of Stepney, and was a small refuge of hope standing amongst the squalor and degradation of poverty. Attlee, a member of the wealthy and comfortable upper middle class, was shocked by the conditions the poor lived in. He recognised the club's importance and the benefits it provided in giving the boys activities outside of work (compulsory education ended at fourteen at this time). He became a volunteer there and then in charge of it.


However, Attlee recognised 'that places like Haileybury House barely scratched the surface of the problem. He realised... that only large-scale action by the state could have any serious effect' (Frances Beckett, Clem Attlee, Politicos). Attlee became a socialist. Nothing about his comfortable background would lead anyone to have looked at the young Attlee and foreseen a socialist, but what he had seen in the East End had changed him, and convinced him the working class' living standards were such that only state intervention could save them. These thoughts and beliefs would eventually develop into the groundbreaking enactments of his government: the NHS, educational and welfare reforms etc.


Now, it is a good question to ask how significant are Clement Attlee's views and life story on a much changed twenty-first century Britain? The slums were long ago cleared and the lives of working class Britons have been improved immeasurably since then, a great factor in that improvement being Mr Attlee. But I think what Attlee understood whilst volunteering all those years ago, and how it so influenced his political views, has a lot to tell us about David Cameron's 'big society'. The 'big society' is meant to take over where our allegedly bloated state is being cut back from. But the 'big' state is there for a reason. In terms of youth centres, community groups, healthcare and education, many of them in fact state run, government investment is enormously important. The state, whatever it's faults, is powerful enough to involve itself in solving many of the ills of society, and if the political will and determination is there, it can fund much that is socially valuable. One of the flaws of the 'big society' is that it believes the state and society are enemies, the great lumbering troll of a state disrupting the pleasant garden party of society. In fact for many the state is a welcome compliment to and part of society - take the library or any other state run institution. Libraries are government institutions and funded through taxation, but it would be nonsensical to argue they are somehow distinct to society.


We do not have the problems of Edwardian Britain, but we still have many problems, and it seems unlikely a state vanishing from the scene is going to help any of them. Of course 'big society' volunteer groups have a  role to play in fighting poverty and crime and social disunity, but as we have seen throughout history and even during the present day, charity is not enough. The big society in it's purest historical form was the time before universal education and universal healthcare. It was a time when you could fall into the muggy depths of utter poverty, and there would only be the occasional overhanging branch to drag yourself out. Today we have a safety net that protects all of us from those dangerous waters, but it is in danger of having holes cut into it, based on a misunderstanding of human nature and society.

Monday, 1 August 2011

Religion, humanism and community - Part 1

Note: When I talk about religion I am talking about a generalised traditional form of Christianity. The criticisms I make do not stand for all forms of Christianity or all religions. Also as people may point out not all religious groups are 'wilting' away. However, overall it is undeniable that in the UK it is.

Organised religion is wilting away and so far there is no unifying movement to replace it. For all religion's faults it is undeniable that it is a creator and reinforcer of communal bonds - local communities would go to church every Sunday to be as one, and during weekdays use it for religious and secular purposes such as study groups, workshops and children's activities. Many still describe themselves as having religious belief, but church attendance is at gapingly low levels. Since 1980 overall weekly church attendance has dropped by a staggering two million thirty five thousand and one hundred people and as of 2005 only 6.3% of the population regularly attend a church (read more here). Today, people are sooner to be found in a shopping centre than a church.

It is not only the steady evaporation of organised religion that has damaged communities but also deindustrialisation within working class areas and the movement of people around the country has broken up this close interdependence. These are too factors that are not going to be explored in this article but they are worth a mention. In impoverished areas it is difficult for community centres to be afforded and due to newfound uninterest in religion, churches may stand in town centres but simply as places of aesthetic beauty, largely unattended. In more privileged areas there is also often a lack of communal bonds. Perhaps golf clubs and so on bring people together, but these are undesirable as centres of community life because they are exclusive and divisive, and golf is enormously dull.

What is needed, is what religion used to do in many ways. Religion, especially Christianity, has been able to reach beyond class divides because a fundamental tenet is that all are equal in the eyes of God. Religion is able to bring people together to worship, make new friends and involve people in charity work. This union between people andthe helping of others is strongly correlated with not only happier individuals but also safer communities. This is where religion played an important part.

However for all its benefits, traditional organised religion was incomplete, because it had an exclusivity and divisiveness of its own. It excluded homosexuals, women and non-believers and it asked its members to believe in fantastical things and warned them that if they failed to do so there would be an afterlife of everlasting suffering. This has all led to its undoing.

Organised religion is leaving and there is a golden opportunity. A new form of community life can spring up and unite more people than religion dreamed of. This has already happened in pockets of the country, but more is needed. Personally I have been happiest as part of a community like my university, involving myself in events and projects which unite members of the university focus our times and energies to a common endeavour. Something which could unite more people around the country is a form of humanism. Humanism need not become a religion, but it provides a guide to a new way of uniting people. People can be bonded by their common humanity, their love of science and the arts, their regard for their community and our unending utterly human compassion for those who hurt.

Atheists and humanists have missed many opportunities so far. To many the image of a famous atheist is of sneering middle class men paid millions to travel the globe to tell people how stupid they are. AC Grayling and Richard Dawkins are very middle class and this privileged, apparent smugness, has not been helped by the creation of the ridiculously expensive private university, the New College of the Humanities. Imagine if, instead of building a college with courses costing £18 000 a year Grayling had announced he was forming a university only for the most underprivileged in society, with each scholarship paid for by wealthy humanist philanthropists. This would really emphasise the humanist commitment to education and human worth.

This is not to say that Grayling and Dawkins are elitist haters of the poor and unpriveleged; indeed both men have given money and time to charitable causes around the world. However, the image of the New Atheists is of one whereby the proponents seem more interested in making religion look silly, than putting humanistic ethics into principle. Wouldn't it be great if, within impoverished communities, where state funded centres have vanished, humanist organisations could step in? The application of humanist principles into practice is already underway as the Mustard Seed School in Uganda has proven (a secular school in Uganda funded by readers of the New Humanist magazine). But what I'm hoping for is a new ambition in the humanist worldview and a realisation that whilst the New Atheists way contribute to the steady demolition of organised religion, this leaves behind spiritual and emotional chasms which need to be filled.

Now here we meet a problem. How would this form of humanism work? Either there is a set of doctrines and beliefs which leads to humanism becoming identical to religion or there are no sets of doctrines or beliefs which removes the power to unite people around a creed. In a humanist worldview what kind of events should the community come together? Which charities should humanists give money too? These are questions which are harder to settle when there is no holy book or holy leader. I think between the two extremes there lies a place for humanism. The British Humanist Association describe humanism as:
'atheists and agnostics who make sense of the world using reason, experience and shared human values. We take responsibility for our actions and base our ethics on the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfilment. We seek to make the best of the one life we have by creating meaning and purpose for ourselves, individually and together.'
This is an excellent starting point. Through using 'reason, experience and shared human values' it does not seem beyond us, or confusing, to create a world in which 'the goals of human welfare, happiness and fulfillment' are at the centre of them.

Sunday, 31 July 2011

William Lane Craig and debating

William Lane Craig is an American Evangelical Christian philosopher and theologian well known for his numerous debates, often with atheist opponents. In October he is due to debate British journalist and President of the British Humanist Association Polly Toynbee.

William Lane Craig is the champion knight in a battlefield of spiritual goblins. Rhetorically slicing apart uppity atheists and wielding logic and reason like maces there is no chink in this man's glistening intellectual armour. As ever more foolish atheists emerge like rats from morally bankrupt universities, to challenge this King Arthur of intellectual debates, William Lane Craig stands against them, and reduces them to dust. Can any atheist defeat Lane Craig in a debate? Is the man infallible? Is he God? These must be some of the questions Christians ask when their favourite debater closes another wonderful philosophical mauling.

This is all illusory. Lane Craig is not infallible and has lost debates against opponents (vs Ray Bradley on hell and vs Keith Parsons on Christianity). Admittedly he is a skilled debater and wins many of his debates, but what does it mean to win debates? The definition I am working with is that he manages to put his points across in a clear, organised and rhetorically persuasive way and his rebuttals address the opponent's points directly. Is this really so amazing? Does this in any way prove that God exists and Jesus is the messiah?

William Lane Craig may win debates but he has not won truth. Debaters develop skills in presenting arguments, rebutting, making their opponents look silly, etc, but this has no bearing on the truth or falsity of ancient philosophical questions. Just as lawyers can convince a jury that a criminal is innocent, debaters can make their case seem true when it's not. Indeed many formal debaters 'win' debates by arguing counter to what they believe which demonstrates the inherently 'sophist' nature of debating.

This shows that debates have little bearing on truth. Lane Craig undoubtedly believes in the Christian faith, but the fact is his main claim to fame is his talent for arguing and debating - an important skill but one which does not decide truth. His own outings into philosophy, such as the Kalam Cosmological argument, are respected but also criticised by fellow Christians like Wes Morriston. The Kalam Cosmological argument is probably unknown to most Christians around the world, and even if they do know it, it is unlikely to be the source of their belief in God.

The idea that many Christians' belief is validated by this intolerant homophobic George Bush-supporting man's facility for debating is pretty silly. And considering the Christian faith is meant to be one that values truth and evidence above all, an obsession with a practice that emphasises persuasion, point scoring and style over substance is demeaning.

Monday, 11 July 2011

The News of the World and the Phone Hacking Scandal

As days pass it is clear we are in momentous political times. The list of those whose phones were hacked by News of the World journalists grows longer and more eye catchingly terrible by the day. The first major phone hacking story, the beginning of the end for the Sunday newspaper, was the news that the murder victim Milly Dowler's phone was hacked. As the public reeled from this information more allegations came out. The familes of dead soldiers. Murder victim's families. The families of the victims of 7 / 7. It was realised that the position of the News of the World was untenable and Rupert Murdoch decided to sink a long standing newspaper.

Even today there are new revelations . Not only is tabloid journalism in a state of existentialist crisis but the Murdoch Empire is breached and crumbling.

Here are the must reads/watches:

  • The Thursday 7th July edition of Question Time showcased a tour de force from Hugh Grant as he demolished not only News International, but also the cosy relationship both the Conservatives and New Labour had with the Murdoch empire. http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b006t1q9 

  • Just read the Guardian! The Guardian has proved itself to be the best newspaper in the country at the moment. Bravely following leads and taking on the Murdoch Empire, all these allegations are coming out precisely because of the Guardians good work.


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Sunday, 3 July 2011

Update June

Hi,

Sorry about not posting anything for a while. I have written something but it is going up at Canvas and the editor hasnt actually edited it yet. The article is about Blue Labour and I am very pleased with it. Style wise it is probably the best thing I have written.

When it's up I will post a link here!

Thanks.

Sunday, 24 April 2011

Links of the Week

Some great articles this week. Here are my favourite:

Friday, 22 April 2011

Should we obsess about social mobility?

Today I came across a very interesting article from Owen Jones about how focusing on social mobility and considering it as the great test of governments ignores the more important issue of inequality.

This quote caught me in particular:

"Social mobility is the common language of today's political establishment. As Nick Clegg would have it: "For old progressives, reducing snapshot income inequality is the ultimate goal. For new progressives, reducing the barriers to social mobility is."
But social mobility has nothing to offer the vast majority of people who share the backgrounds of my old classmates. It's the idea of creaming off a small minority of able working-class kids and catapulting them into the middle classes. You accept the class system, merely offering ladders for some to escape the bottom. As Clegg suggests, issues such as inequality are sidelined."
I have always accepted this focus on social mobility without great thought. I just believed that social mobility is important and that is that. Of course it is, and Jones points this out, arguing that we shouldn't 'abandon attempts to crack open the worlds of politics and the media, to take two striking examples... It's not just unfair, it leads to bad policies and bad journalism.'

However, with social mobility, it is only a small group that get ahead into the professions, and there are still millions left in traditional working class jobs. Social mobility as it is considered today does not deal with the millions who have to work long hours, in difficult jobs that society sneers at. Social mobility does nothing for the cleaners or waste recycling workers.

Social mobility is important but so is economic inequality. Furthermore by arguing that working class people should 'move up' to professional jobs like journalism or banking or advertising, entrenches a hierarchy and a scorn of jobs at the 'bottom' of society. It ignores the fact that jobs like cleaning and recycling are socially important and that these workers are paid badly.

As Owen says,

"Rather than embracing the individualism of social mobility, we need a collective approach. In the four years before the recession hit, the real wages of the bottom half were stagnating; for the bottom third, they actually declined... At the heart of politics should be a determination to improve the lives of working-class people as a class, rather than focusing on ways to somehow rescue a small minority."

Thursday, 21 April 2011

My favourite blogpost

I was just looking through some of my old blogposts to see whether my writing had improved over time. I have to admit the jury is still out on that. The Ed Miliband post was written up in about twenty minutes at 2am in the morning so I don't think it shows a great deal of improvement, and the post on Libya was too small to see much of a difference. Having a read through some of my posts I think my post on the Lib Dems and Labour forming an electoral pact is the best so far. Although the idea of Labour and LD forming an electoral pact is, at the moment, beyond whimsical I think there are a lot of good points about not forgetting that it is the Tories that are still the enemy of the centre-left and the Coalition only reinforces this, that when Labour and the LD try to ape the Tories that things go wrong and that Labour and LD have some key common themes (whatever Clegg says). Also, this post is one that I think is fairly original (maybe that's because the argument is bonkers!)

So if you have come to my blog and want to read what I reckon is my best blog post so far then read:

'At the next election two parties should have a pact - the Lib Dems and Labour'

Sunday, 17 April 2011

Links of the Week

I know I've been bad and haven't posted anything for a while. I have several things in the pipeline. I think there are actually 3 articles that I'm writing, but for one reason or another - they are becoming increasingly longer or more complex and thus requiring more research - I haven't posted them yet. For this week I want to try something new and post my favourite links of the week. These will be philosophically and politically related; current affairs events, ideas and arguments that I find interesting. I hope you do too.

Saturday, 26 March 2011

Libya - history has shown us the horrors of western interference and non-interference

For my generation Iraq has been the defining foreign policy event. At twelve I was too young to understand the arguments for and against the war, but over time, as news stories flooded my consciousness with images of car bombs exploding in Iraqi cities, and coffins moving steadily through an English town, I came to the conclusion that the Iraq war was a mistake with terrible human repercussions. The message seemed to be that Western interference in other countries had ambiguous, possibly oil tinged, motives and was best avoided.

Iraq weighs heavily today in minds as the UK, alongside America and France and others, places a no fly zone over Libya and has launched air strikes against the forces of Colonel Gaddafi. Iraq is significant, but there are other experiences from history that can be used as a guide on the subject of western interference and the consequences of non-interference. The Economist has a fantastic article on how Bosnia and the West's failure to act soon enough still haunts many in a position of power. There is also of course the case of Rwanda in which 800 000 people were murdered by militias organised by the then government. The response of the UN and the west was a disgrace. When ten Belgian soldiers were killed, Western countries decided that the situation was too dangerous for their own troops and so left the country. They didn't seem to consider how dangerous it was to the people of Rwanda who were then butchered to death in their thousands. Kofi Annan, who was head of peacekeeping forces at the time, expresses his regret and says, 'The events in Rwanda 10 years ago were especially shameful. The international community clearly had the capacity to prevent those events, but failed to summon the will. . . . We must ensure that we never again fail to summon the will.'

Which examples in history are relevant in the case of Libya?

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Ed Miliband

What do I think about Ed Miliband?

I like the man. The fact that a nerdy comprehensive school educated man has got into high political office gives all nerdy comprehensive school educated men like myself hope. Well truthfully the reason why his personality appeals to me is that he is less slippery and manufactured than David Cameron or Tony Blair or possibly Nick Clegg (the jury is still out on Clegg - when you watch him he appears honest and straightforward but perhaps all we are watching is the greatest piece of political acting known to man). But the manufacturing of a political image can be successful even on a large scale. For all it may annoy those who deplore the man Cameron has developed that 'statesmanlike quality' in his way of coming across to the public.

Poor Miliband has not yet developed that 'statesmanlike quality'. When newspapers showed images of members of the Shadow Cabinet in Afghanistan it must be a bad sign for your public image when Douglas Alexander looks better than you in a flakjacket. It is in many ways terrible that in today's society image counts for so much and substance for so little, but it is the way that the world works and any party leader has to take that into account. I think most of the British public would agree that Ed does not look prime ministerial. If this is the continuuing image the public have in their heads and if the next election is a close call, many may vote for the man who (however artificially constructed) looks like he should be Prime Minister. This is not, at the moment, Ed.

He also needs some concrete policies. I know they're going through a process of policy review as we speak but his plan of opposing everything the Coalition proposes is getting rather annoying. If they arent cutting here here and here or raising tax a b and c where are they cutting or where are they raising taxes? This is a point of contention I have with Labour on a substantial level, however I can understand that stylistically it is very effective. The Conservatives went into the last General Election with about two half-baked policies and managed to almost win the General Election. An Opposition that says little but represents 'alternative' can have a lot of success.

I think that a true alternative to the Coalition is one that looks seriously at raising some taxes. The welfare state in Britain is one that provides countless important services and cuts are ripping away so many of them. We cannot help the poorest in society, we cannot create hope and dreams, we cannot turn broken communities into united ones without clear and longterm investment. This needs money and tax is the only way to viably do it. We have seen the option of 'cuts cuts cuts' and it is a grim one. Raising the higher rate of income tax is probably not a good idea because it is a huge deterrent to wealth creators however raising taxes on unearned wealth like land, houses and inheritance may be the first place to look in terms of safeguarding the welfare state. I will look at a new and better economic system for Britain in a different post when I have had done a sufficient amount of reading and talking to the experts. But here is the path I think Labour should travel. However I realise that running on a policy of  'Labour will tax people more' never goes down a treat, if history is to tell us anything...

I haven't really come to any substantive conclusions. I have only highlighted where Ed's PR problems lie and where I think the broad journey the Labour party should travel. There are problems with that journey but the current path of saying nothing and criticising everything will have to end one day

Update

I realise there has been a wait in between posts.

One of the promised articles is on it's way. I have been writing on what kind of religious belief is dangerous and it is turned into quite a biggie. It is also something I want to get right, because religion is something that provides great comfort and solace but also great terror and sadness. I want to try and demonstrate, to the best of my ability, the intricacies and nuances of religion and how we should respect alot of religious belief but also condemn  alot of it.

I have joined the team at Canvas, a political journal at my university.  You can read it at canvas.union.shef.ac.uk. What I write here is seperate from what I write there and although there may be similiar themes both blogs are independent of one another.

I promised a blog on what I thought about Ed Miliband. This going to be a short because he hasn't really told us very much of what he believes. It should be up here pretty soon.

Updating this update: The Ed Miliband article has been posted and it turned out not to be that short. One reader did describe it as 'random but relevent' because it flits between  the issues, however I think there are important points made about Miliband and the problems he faces in terms of PR and policy.

Saturday, 29 January 2011

At the next election two parties should have an electoral pact: the Lib Dems and Labour


Excited modernisers and terrified traditionalists in the Conservative party have been arguing over the question of whether Conservatives and Liberal Democrats should fight the next election together. Supporters of this theory were given further inspiration with the Oldham and Saddlesworth by-election when Conservative voters lent support to the Liberal Democrats and the Prime Minister even wished the Lib Dem candidate good luck. The idea seems to be dead in the water because the Liberal Democrat executive passed  legislation making clear the party would stand independently of either the Conservatives or Labour. The thought of the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats working together in a future election is indeed nightmarish. The present coalition is best seen as being borne out of the necessities of a peculiar election result. It is not a natural alliance. It is not a good alliance. There is an alliance that makes sense, however, and that is between Labour and the Liberal Democrats.
            For all Cameron’s talk of cosy poor people-loving Conservatism, this coalition, has proved that even with a Lib Dem muzzle (however, at times, incompetent) the Tory Party is still anathema to centre-left voters. It is said that Nick Clegg is providing helpful shelter for the Prime Minister and his unpopular policies, but remember why the torpedoes are battering against the Deputy Prime Minister. Well-liked Liberal Democrat election promises have not been fulfilled for two reasons: misjudgement over needing to cut the national deficit under one parliament and because Conservatives aren’t amenable to Lib Dem policies. Capital gains tax was never going to be raised as high as the Lib Dems want because Tory voters own the several houses the tax would hit. Is Dr Liam Fox ending the Trident nuclear missile system even logically possible? And can you truly imagine Osborne and Cameron standing outside their mansions announcing the introduction of a mansion tax?
            Quite clearly Liberal Democrat policy does not chime with Conservative policy. Whatever people say, the Lib Dems are a lot closer to the Labour party. Overarching themes, beloved of both parties, are enough to show the importance of an electoral pact if the parties are true to themselves at the next election. The division on the left has, for most of the last century, allowed Conservative governments to win huge power with a minority of the vote, and denied Great Britain the welfare state and economic system it needs. Redistribution, fairer taxes, investment in public services, an emphasis on education – these have all been hallmarks of both Labour and the Liberal Democrats. It was areas like Iraq and civil liberties that both parties fundamentally disagreed. Indeed without Iraq and our subservience to the White House I would argue that Tony Blair was one of the greatest Prime Ministers of all time. Similarly when it comes to economic policy Labour made great mistakes in continuing with an economy largely bereft of manufacturing and exports, but centred on a risky world of fantasy numbers and dodgy loans. Labour are gradually admitting these mistakes, and realise that kowtowing to the City is not only bad for the country but poison to Labour’s roots. Of course Labour need not be socialist but it does not have to stray so far from it’s foundations, it need not travel a course that makes them seem so similar to their enemies. At times Labour and Conservative were indistinguishable.
But there we are, at the nub of the issue again. For voters on the centre-left it was when Labour became Conservatives that things went wrong, and today, it is when Liberal Democrats are tied to the mast of a Conservative ship that their voters panic and leave behind old friends Nick and Vince, caught on the ship that floats towards a grim horizon.
            The Conservative party is the enemy. This much is clear. A Labour party that is true to itself and a Liberal Democrat party that is true to itself are bonded by traditions and ambitions that overlap. Of course differences remain, because the parties are distinct, but do these differences overwhelm the similarities? Ed Miliband’s support for a living wage is in line with Nick Clegg’s low-income friendly tax reforms. Outrage at the closure of libraries and sure start centres are understandable. Labour will capitalise on the discontent created by public services cuts. The Lib Dems should be there too, but they can’t be, because they are stuck in a Conservative-led executive. The words ‘Conservative led government’ are remarkably dull for a political catchphrase, but they have a resonance and durability because it is simply true that this government is led by the Conservatives.
Ed Miliband has said that he will look at making their policy of deficit reduction one which is more balanced between cuts and tax rises. The coalition is making 80% cuts as opposed to 20% tax rises. This is utterly unfair. There are many taxes that could be brought in or raised without any damage done to the long term prospects of the economy, in fact many new taxes would provide long-term benefits. A Labour and Liberal Democrat electoral pact could look at these. New land taxes, inheritance taxes or property taxes target unearned wealth. Capital gains tax and taxes on junk food would hit things people do not need. The money gained from these taxes could then be used to recover the frontline losses in public services. Even if both parties don’t accept these taxes, their ideas are along similar lines to the ones sketched above. If they are so similar then both parties may as well stand on the same electoral platform.
In the book ‘The Spirit Level’ by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett the authors outline the strong connection between more equal societies and many societal goods such as lower infant mortality rates, lower teenage pregnancy rates, less crime and better education standards. Equality is woven into the fabric or both parties. At the last election Nick Clegg spoke so convincingly and passionately about the terrible inequalities that exist in Britain and his proposed tax reforms (lowering tax for the poor, raising it for the rich) was one way to address this. The Labour Party and Liberal Democrats can work together for a more equal Britain.
The electoral reasons for this are clear from the Liberal Democrat point of view. Polls have put the party as low as 8%, and even if AV was to brought in, this result could only ever be described as an utter disaster. Even if the LD vote likely picks up, it could still end up at humiliatingly low levels. If Labour voters were to vote for a Liberal Democrat in Tory vs Lib Dem seats and Labour candidates in these areas were to step down, then the Lib Dem vote would be boosted around the country. Most Lib Dem seats are between them and the Tories so this would be hugely beneficial to the Lib Dem candidates who need to squeeze the Labour vote as much as they can. It is not a perfect cure because many Labour voters would refuse to vote Lib Dem for what they see as Lib Dem treachery. It is no cure, but it is better than facing what will happen if there is no pact.
            The Labour party will need convincing of this. If they are ahead in the polls then they will see no short-term gains in propping up Lib Dems. It is their long-term interests that there is a united left that should be appealed too. A degree of stability would occur as a Labour-Lib Dem government could be expected to remain in power for a long period of time. That would be the time to reform Britain.
            Much of what I have written will not happen, but what I have said about Labour and the Liberal Democrats following policies which are in line with their traditions and ideals must happen. Furthermore if the Coalition we have at the moment has taught us anything, it is of the dangers of the Tories in any form, and the importance of a strong possibly united left.

Saturday, 15 January 2011

Update

Sorry I haven't written anything in a while. Both Christmas and the upcoming exams have kept me pretty busy. I promise that after the exams there will be an increase in posts both here and at The Comment Space, the other place I write at.

In the New Year I hope to write on these issues:

- Ed Miliband's progress as Labour leader
- The AV voting system
- What kind of religious belief should atheist secular liberals be fighting

There will be others.

Happy New Year! x