Monday, 28 February 2011

Is the Internet sending us backwards?

The internet is becoming ever more prevalent in British politics. The rise of social networks, especially Twitter and YouTube are to thank for this. Modernisation of politics - finally. In the run up to the 2010 general election, all three candidates aimed to use the internet to appeal to younger voters, arguably the Lib Dems and the Tories utilised this new media to their advantage the best.

But the internet isn't all glitz and glamour for politics. In fact, exactly the opposite could be said to true. Is it modernising politics? Or is it reinforcing the old, negative sterotypes of British politics? You know what I'm talking about; the Tories hate the NHS, the poor and anybody else who isn't a billionaire. The same for the Labour party; love benefit culture and do as the unions tell them too. Lib Dems; erm? Irrelevant? I kid.

The easiest target for this reversal of political thinking is obviously the incumbent government. Which just so happens to be the Tories. So what do people do? They criticise them for being like "evil Mrs Thatcher" (by the way, people hate her, yet they still call her Mrs Thatcher - that's respect for you!!!). Cameron's Tories are miles apart from Thatcherism (to the disdain of many Tories right-wingers), but yet still the critics wade in.

Viral posters hammer home the negative sterotypes
Making their misguided criticisms even more absurd is the fact that we are in a Coalition government, with the Lib Dems, who are far from Thatcherite. 

One issue with social media is that it is even more short-termist than the papers. The papers have scandals and stories that go on for days, on Twitter, trends change in hours and people's knowledge is diluted to snippets they read with #hash-tags in front of them.

Constantly bloggers/tweeters criticise the Tories for cutting everything. But lets not forget, 13 years ago, Labour did not inherit a massive deficit from the Tories. It is the Tories who are mopping up the mess left behind. 

Names such as UK Uncut and 38 degrees keep popping up, but as Robin alluded to in a previous post, they must choose their battles wisely. They can not try to save everything, because it is not the Tories fault that everything can't be saved. Cuts are needed. But the Tories aren't cutting everywhere, they have prioritised and people must remember this. Yes things will be tough, but shouting loudly isn't going to get you anywhere, because Labour wouldn't be doing anything differently. 

And if you disagree with that, then simply - you are wrong. Why do you think Ed Miliband hasn't come up with an alternative to New Labour yet? Why do you think Andy Burnham hasn't come up with a different idea to the English Bacc and Academies. Ed Balls is still shouting on about "the deficit he never created". The only person making any noises aren't on the front benches, namely Peter Mandelson and David Miliband. (Read George's post below)

The problem with social networking sites, is that they are littered with Liberals, far too liberal as well. Without making sweeping generalisations, some are anarchists, they like to criticise everything, because that is the easy thing to do. It's like the 10 o'Clock Live Show 24/7 for these people. They have given rise to partisan blogs, including (the very good) Left Foot Forward, (the not so good) Political Scrapbook and gives a voice to many columnists who are so biased their heads must be up their arses not to notice - yes that's you Toynbee! 

It's not just the left that does the bashing, the right are at it as well. Guido Fawkes for example. Letting Boris Johnson write in The Telegraph is like asking a 6 year old how we should fix the deficit - with ice cream please.

Rant over - for now.

MultiCUTural Britain

What is Multiculturalism? Its hard to define such a term as it has a multitude of meanings focused around Class, Gender, Ethnicity and Economics. Recently David Cameron has attacked multiculturalism for 'failing to deliver' what it promised decades ago. Personally I don't agree with Dave but I'm not going to then attack his opinions, otherwise a cycle of disagreement will occur and nothing will really be said. However a study published in the Guardian today has revealed some interesting statistics showing just how decided the population of Britain is over the effects and benefits of multiculturalism.

The study grouped individuals into one of six groups, and are as follows:

• Confident multiculturalists, comprising 8% of the population, who are most likely to be graduates and entirely comfortable with Britain's multicultural society.

• Mainstream liberals, 16% of the population, who are educated and "see immigration as a net benefit" to Britain and only differ from the first group in their enthusiasm about multiculturalism, according to the report.

• Identity ambivalents, 28% of the population, who come from less affluent backgrounds and include black minority ethnic groups. "They are more likely to be working class, to live in social housing and to view immigration through the prism of its economic impact on their opportunities and the social impact on their communities," the report says. This group tend to identify with Labour.

• Cultural integrationists, 24% of the population, who are older and more prosperous. They are likely to have concerns about the "impact of immigration on national identity and about immigrants' willingness to integrate". They are more likely to identify with the Tories.

• Latent hostiles, 10% of the population, who are more likely to be older and not educated to university level. "For them, immigration has undermined British culture, public services and their own economic prospects," the report says.

• Active enmity, 13% of the population, who tend to be unemployed and unskilled. They tend to be "opposed to all ethnicities or religions other than their own", the report says.

I find the figures interesting but not at all surprising in 2011 Britain, what I would like to focus on briefly is the reasons given for why individuals are or are not prejudice. One of the main reasons given for a disparity in the acceptance of multiculturalism is a University education (or at least further education). Now, many arguments have been made that education is not above all the protagonist of defeating ignorance, and maybe so, but it defiantly works in ways which gives individuals a broader outlook on culture and a greater understanding of immigration. Additionally attending a university - such as Lancaster - which has a high intake of foreign students, provides a value experience of how act and react to differences in cultural ideology.

So what am I getting at exactly? Well I believe that as a student I have been given a superb opportunity to investigate race and the politics of race, also to have day to day interactions with individuals who don't share my background or upbringing but still share the value of learning and positive critical thinking. In this sense I think that I and universities have a responsibly to help people in the 4th-6th groups above to understand what multiculturalism is and what benefits it provides not just Britain but a contemporary globalised world. As of September next year students will be required to pay up too £9000 a year for their education and so I believe that students should be reimbursed not only in the increase of the standard of education that their chosen university provides but in 'improving' the society that they will be contributing towards after they leave higher education (hopefully). Therefore universities could provided free services to non graduates including lectures and seminars surrounding multiculturalism and educating those who wish to learn more about others cultures. 23% of the people surveyed in the study are 'unskilled' and/or 'uneducated' and many of an older generation where racism existed in free flow.

Ignorance is cruel, it isolates and is intolerant, is it not worth paying taxes for education and integration, even economist and conservatives can see the potential benefits of a society which works together.

Friday, 25 February 2011

The Cuts Campaigners Need to Improve their Game

If the anti-cuts campaigners want to be successful they need to do three things.
  1. Pick their battles
  2. Stick to the facts
  3. Talk persuasively, not just loudly

Picking Battles

Anti-cuts campaigners need to realise there are going to be cuts, and they are going to be big. That does not mean that they should give up, there are cuts which can be uncut, policy reversals which can be forced. The policy turnarounds on school sport and forests shows battles can be won, but only the right ones. From now on anti-cuts campaigners need to pick areas where a wide base of support can be built, where the issue speaks to as many people as possible. Those are the battles where the coalition see that the loss of face that comes with a U-turn is better than continued negative headlines and loss of support.

One quick nod to scepticism here: it should be noted that Gove managed to cut £50,000,000 from school sports funding and leave anti-cuts campaigners feeling like they'd won a resounding victory. Hmm

Sticking to the Facts

There are enough things wrong with the way this government is cutting that the anti-cuts campaign shouldn't need to make things up. This week a report by website False Economy claimed that the NHS is to loose 50,000 jobs over the next four years. That's pretty eye-catching and certainly shocking. It's also a gross abuse of statistics; for example the report counts doctors moving hospitals as job cuts. The way the government proposes to reform the workings of the NHS may not be all rosy but its funding commitment is solid, funding for the NHS will increase in real terms.

Campaigners need to focus on what Lansley and Gove will do to the NHS and to education. Lying just gives the pro-cut lobby ammunition whilst distracting from the real arguments.

Talking persuasively, not just loudly

Last week, 10 weeks after the university tuition fees rise passed through parliament, I was canvassed by a group of anti-tuition fees campaigners: complete with music, shouting and leaflet thrusting. The leaflets reiterated the same arguments about the changes to the tuition fees system, I'm not going to discuss those arguments again, the problem here is that the debate around tuition fees, and cuts in general, has to move on.

In the coming weeks university leadership will be meeting to decide what fees their universities will charge students from September 2012. This is where anti-fees campaigners should now be focusing their efforts. But I don't think this is a battle where mass protest will be effective; instead student leaders need to be sitting down with both the politicians who will have to approve fees changes, and with the university managements themselves. Campaigners need to ensure that future students get the best deal out the system, like it or not, will be in place from September 2012. This will only be achieved through giving the management and politicians reasons to help, it won't be achieved by shouting at them.

The case against cuts can be made. But, it must be done so in a way which targets those cuts which are unfair, unjust, or foolish. Nor can the campaign be distracted by publishing misleading stories which allow the proponents of cuts to attack when they should be justifying the policies. Finally if campaigners are going to shout to get attention, they should make the most of our attention once they have it by making clear, persuasive arguments for their positions.

Wednesday, 23 February 2011

Voting Yes in May is the only real option.

On the 5th May the people of Britain will return to the polling booth for local elections. These elections will no doubt cripple the Liberal Democrats at a local level, still riding the wave of contempt from the public over Tuition Fees, the VAT rise and public sector cuts.

But all this is seemingly irrelevant to the online community, the big issue on the 5th May is the vote for the Alternative Vote. I know that I (and many other people) have spoken about this issue before, but I thought I'd try and put across the reasons why I feel AV should be the way to go and perhaps more importantly why and where the No 2 AV campaign is going wrong.

For anybody who hasn't read about AV before, here is a simply guide to how it works.

Why Vote Yes?

FPTP allows candidates to win their seat with only 3 votes in 10. AV would mean that candidates would need over 50%.

It encourages a stronger constituency link, MPs have to work hard to appeal to their constituents to make sure they get the higher percentage of votes.

It encourages moderated debates, extremists views are unlikely to be popular across the spectrum of a constituency.

AV isn't perfect, but it is a step in the right direction.

Why the No Campaign is wrong?

AV will cost £250m - Erm, how do I put this? .. Ah yes, this is a complete lie. AV will not cost £250m.
The referendum on AV will cost £82m. Let me just stress that point, the referendum will cost £82m, regardless if the Yes vote wins. So it will cost us £82m to keep FPTP if the No vote wins. The outcome is irrelevant to this cost. Strike one for No2Av. The rest of this "cost" comes from electronic voting machines, which will cost up to £130m. Guess what? Strike two. We don't need these machines. The rest of the money is made up in educating voters, but their estimates are on a totally different voting system. Strike three and this No2AV lie is out of here.
No2AV - This is how the "cost" of AV should be spent. Truly disgusting campaigning.
Next on the list of lies mis-truths - Voting Yes2AV will help the BNP. This is actually quite funny. Firstly because of course it is a lie. But secondly because the BNP are campaigning against AV. Their supporters are being encouraged to vote No2AV. 

Allowing voters to rank their preferences is apparently going to benefit the BNP more than any other party in the No2AV fantasy land. Voters can rank up to five candidates, but they don't have to, they can just vote for one candidate and one candidate only. Meaning only BNP supporters will rank them at all. But no, the No2AV see it differently.

I can imagine it now. A supporter of the Liberal Democrats walking into the voting booth and putting Lib Dem's as their first choice because they support the idea of immigration amnesty that was brought up in the 2010 Election only to decide that they'd like the BNP as their second choice because, you know what, I don't like immigrants here, they'd like to give them £50,000 to "get out of their country". Hmm, then again, maybe not.

AV is a confusing system. How many of you think ranking something 1-5 is confusing? It is an insult to the intelligence of the British public.

FPTP is a British tradition. So was slavery. *bangs head on wall*.

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Pierre Bourdieu on Right-handed mentality.

While reading Pierre Bourdieu's work on class and inequities I recently came across his book (a collection of interviews and essays) titled 'Acts of Resistance: Against the Tyranny of the Market', where I discovered a fantastic quote which really encapsulates how the British centre-right think and act. Bourdieu states:
"The opinion of people who write in the newspapers, intellectuals who advocate the 'minimal state' and who are rather too quick to bury the notion of the public and the public's interests... We see there a typical example of the effect of shared belief which removes from discussion ideas which are perfectly worth discussing. One would need to analyse the work of the 'new intellectuals', which has created a climate favourable to the withdrawal of the state and, more broadly, to submission to the values of the economy. I'm thinking of what has been called the 'return of individualism', a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy which tends to destroy the philosophical foundations of the welfare state and in particular the notion of collective responsibility (towards industrial accidents, sickness or poverty) which has been a fundamental achievement of of social (and sociological) thought. The return to the individual is also what makes it possible to 'blame the victim', who is entirely responsible for his or her own misfortune, and to preach the gospel of self-help, all of this being justified by the endlessly repeated need to reduce cost for companies". (1998: 7)

For me this really epitomises the coalition government we live under today and their unjustifiable policies surrounding education and the NHS.

Friday, 18 February 2011

AV... No thanks I'm HDMI

Recently there has been a great deal of emphasis placed upon the Alternative Voting System, and its possible role in the future of British politics. When the system was brought to light by Nick Clegg during the previous election campaign I was intrigued and wanted to investigate further. At the time I was of the opinion that the AV system was fairer and a much more representable way of voting (although I was guilty of letting a few Lib Dem policies rest in my subconscious just as long as the Tories were kept from power). Now I'm not sure what to think as there are advantages and disadvantages on both sides of the argument.

Here is a simple explanation of the system from the BBC News Website

HOW IT WORKS: Voters rank the candidates in order of preference (i.e., 1,2,3,4 instead of 'x'). If no candidate gets more than half the votes cast, the one who has fewest first preference votes has his or her votes reallocated, according to voters' second preferences. This continues until one candidate has more than half.

PROS: Retains the constituency link. Majority support at the local level, not just nationally.

CONS: Constituencies may be decided by the second preferences of the voters who supported the least popular candidate. Why should it be their second preferences which swing the constituency?

Available at:

Too be honest I believe that the AV system is one of the only strong policies the Lib Dems have left and even if implemented, it would be more to do with just changing the voting system - scoring a political point - than actually benefiting constituents. I'm also afraid that people may rank far right groups such as the BNP as a second or third preference in passing, not understanding the full consequences of their actions at the time.

I don't believe that the First-Past-the-Post system is particularly fair and I hope that there is a change to the political stage at some point in the near future. But is this it? I guess only time will tell.

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Hypocrisy in the House of Lords.

There are moments in politics that I find myself chuckling away when I read what is happening - today is such a day. (I am aware this is possibly the uncoolest statement made by a 19 year old)

Regardless, I'll continue. The debate on the Alternative Vote (AV) has been raging for a while now, the Liberal Democrats made it one of their four key policies in their manifesto and would have refused to join the Coalition without "a bankable" offer from the Tories on an AV referendum (public vote).


Under the AV system, voters rank candidates in their constituency in order of preference.
Anyone getting more than 50% of first-preference votes is elected.
If no-one gets 50% of votes, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and their backers' second choices allocated to those remaining.
This process continues until one candidate has at least 50% of all votes in that round.
BBC News

Why do the Lib Dem's want it so badly? AV is a more representative of people's votes, currently we use a First Past The Post (FPTP) system which means one candidate can win with less than 50% of the popular vote. Crucially for the Lib Dem's they feel the FPTP is hurting them, in 2010 they won 23% of the popular vote, but they didn't receive anywhere near 1 in 4 seats - closer to 1 in 10 in fact.

Vote Yes on May 5th

In May when the Coalition was formed, the Tories gave the Lib Dem's their assurance that a referendum would be held on AV. But it has been anything but easy since then. The House of Lords has refused to pass the bill as it stands and yesterday announced that they have given their support to the bill, only on the condition that 40% of the electorate votes on it. Meaning 4 in 10 people most vote (either way) on 5th May 2011.

Firstly, this makes the job of the No2AV campaigners unbelievably simple, if they can convince enough people to NOT vote at all, they'll "win". It doesn't matter if 39% of the electorate turn out and ALL vote yes. The AV bill still won't "be legitimate" and will count for nothing. So Yes2AV campaigners really have to step up their game, especially on the back of an announcement by YouGov that AV and FPTP are neck and neck in the polls.

Finally, lets get back to the title - hypocrisy. Yes, the hypocrites in the House of Lords have decided that the AV vote isn't safe for us mere mortals to have - but for them, it is fair game. A hereditary peer has sadly died and because he was important in the House of Lords, all 786 peers will have their chance to vote and rank in order their preference for a new peer to replace him.

One rule for one, but sadly not for all.

Yes to fairer votes. Yes to Av.

Monday, 7 February 2011

Lockerbie Bomber & The Day Justice Died.

The Cambridge Dictionary defines justice as "fairness in the way people are dealt with"

Yet today we found out that Labour had traded any type of justice for the families of the 270 victims that were killed in the Lockerbie Bombing for commercial reasons (specifically oil)

Headlines today make highly disturbing reading:

The Guardian: Labour government did 'all it could to secure release of Lockerbie bomber'.
The Telegraph: Cameron attacks Labour after report finds government aided bomber release.
The Independent: Labour 'did all it could' for Libya.
BBC: Ministers 'wanted Lockerbie bomber released'

I could go on and on. It is irrefutable that Labour (and more specifically it seems, David Milliband) played a massive role in the release of Abdelbaset Ali al-Megrahi. Megrahi was sentenced to life imprisonment after being the only person charged with the terrorist attack. He appealed the verdict on separate occasions, only to have his appeal quashed. 

Yet in August 2009 he was released on compassionate grounds as his doctors informed the authorities that he had three months to live, as he was dying from terminal prostate cancer. At the time, the majority of Scottish people disagreed with the release of Megrahi, whilst in the UK the 45% of people believed the release was more to do with oil than compassion.

The decision was ultimately made by the Scottish Justice Minister, but Jack Straw the then UK Justice Minister had said that Megrahi shouldn't have been allowed to be up for release, but quickly changed his tune when he realised it "wasn't in the UK's best interests".

The shocking notion that this was more to do with oil than compassion isn't just fantasy, Liberian leader Colonel Gadaffi's own son admitted that there was an "obvious" link between trade and the release. 

David Cameron said at the time:
"But if this is about genuine release on compassionate grounds, I think it is wrong.
"This man was convicted of murdering 270 people. He showed no compassion to them. They weren't allowed to go home and die with their relatives in their own bed. And I think this is a very bad decision."
The report released today (commissioned by David Cameron) "showed UK ministers changed their position on Megrahi due to commercial considerations, including lobbying by BP, in Libya." - strangely enough, the lobbying by BP was always denied by all parties (what a surprise, BP doing something bad!) Ministers still argue that they were not affected by any external pressures. Yet the report goes on to say:

"..every area of government were attempting to facilitate the release of Mr al-Megrahi's release to go back home to Libya."
Cameron concluded on the report by saying:
"For my part, I repeat - I believe it was profoundly wrong.
"The fact that 18 months later the Lockerbie bomber is today living, at liberty, in Tripoli, only serves to underline that."

Vile celebrations were held when Megrahi returned home.

For those of you who wondered, injustice is defined as "a situation where there is no fairness or justice" - harrowing in its appropriateness.

Sunday, 6 February 2011

A vision of true multiculturalism.

Speaking in Berlin yesterday David Cameron launched his most scathing attack yet on multiculturalism in Britain, saying that we should use 'muscular liberalism' to enforce equality, law, and freedom across society. Whilst the message about enforcing equality and freedom is one I think we can all sign up to, I do question the manner, the tone, and indeed the timing of this speech, and wonder if it wasn't a little reckless.

Multiculuralism isn't an experiment, it's a way of life.
The reason I question the speech is that whilst the aims are noble, he has targeted the rhetoric towards a minority in an unfair and lazy way, which could fuel ignorance and hatred of other cultures. When an EDL leader welcomes your speech, you should pause for thought.

An example of this is his insistence that no Muslim group should recieve state funding unless they endorse women's rights and promote integration. Now, neither of these are bad things, but again the targetting is the part I have an issue with. Why Muslim groups in particular? Will he put the same onus on the Catholic church as it refuses to acknowledge women priests, or as it condemns homosexuals? If you're going to enforce equality, then do it across all groups, you cannot single out one bad apple from a rotten orchard.

I fear that all this speech will do, rather than setting out any new solutions to the problem of integration, will fuel the ignorance of far-right groups who like to pretend that Islam is the problem, the sole problem, and being rid of it will solve all our nations problems. Assigning blame to Muslims for not integrating whilst completely ignoring those factions within British society who are generally far more violent (such as the EDL, who had a major rally on the day of the speech) is reckless, and will do nothing to benefit anyone.

Multiculturalism is not something that can fail or succeed, it is not an experiment, it is simply a description of the current state of affairs of our nation, where we have a range of cultures living side by side. Cameron himself said in 2007 that, 'We wouldn't be half the country we are without immigration.' The answer is not to bully people into adopting one culture and one culture only, it is to allow a state of affairs where we have different cultures, but not distinct social identities, where cultures overlap and you are free to move between them.

Paul Vallely in the Independent gives a simple example of this from a school in Moss Side, Manchester. Children there are encouraged to embrace other cultures as well as their own with the result that 37 nationalities can learn harmoniously, and you have 'black children there doing irish dancing, and white kids play in a jamaican steel band'.

This is the kind of multiculturalism I'd like to see, where you have the best of all cultures, living not only side by side but interspersed with one another. Where you break down barriers and stereotypes at the very youngest age. And I don't think David Cameron's ill-judged attempt to appease the right wing of his party, by suggesting we churn out clones who all share the same culture, is the right way to build a society, or indeed to solve any problems currently present.

Saturday, 5 February 2011

Goveasoures Rex

I think the subject of Education in the UK is going to be highly contested within the next few months and as it is a prominent feature on this blog I thought I would give a response to Liam's article with a bit more prowess then a comment.

The reason that some subjects are considered soft is purely economical, due to the fact that educational institutions in the UK, such as universities are seen primarily as businesses which in a way has superseded the importance of education and indeed free thinking.

Plus saying that it is the universities which perceive certain subjects as hard or soft isn't entity the case as it also is apparent in the opinion of the individual to what they consider as such. This subject comes up in public and political discourse, so as well as Gove commenting upon what he believes are hard and soft subjects, people in general have their own view on what is a worthwhile degree (or qualification) to obtain. Personally I have come under attack by people in general for studying Sociology which is considered soft by many but the point is that I am perfectly capable of studying a "hard" subject and have qualifications to do so, I am just not interested in them as much as Sociology.

This isn't taken into consideration by Gove and he seems uninterested in what people find interesting or personally worthwhile and instead would like individuals to spend their time studying a subject which will benefit the economy over their preferred experience or enjoyment.

The fact that there remains this ethos that "if you do "vocational" subjects, then don't be surprised if your application is rejected", is inherently derived from modernity and an overemphasis on capitalism as the more economically astute subjects are given a higher status over ones which aren't. This to me seems a particularly robotic way to approach education as the system in place to educate is comparable to a production line where we all are manufactured to benefit the economy ('hard' products) and the ones who are misshapen or impractical ('soft' products) are disregarded and sold as a cheaper price.

I am not a product and I personally find Gove's overall approach to education offensive especially as it is nothing more than a relic of a time gone by... this is 2011 not 1950.

Friday, 4 February 2011

The case for votes for prisoners.

The issue of whether or not we should let prisoners have the vote keeps coming up time and again recently, and is far from being party political as can be seen from the fact that big names in opposing parties can join up to campaign on the same side. It's not a black and white issue, so I thought I'd outline why I'm in favour of giving prisoners the vote, albeit that there are kinks to work out.

I'm well aware that I'm not on the side of popular public opinion on this one, but do believe there is a case to be made that denying prisoners the right to vote is wrong. Already our prison system focusses too heavily on punishment, with very little done by the way of rehabilitation. It may make the victim of crime feel better to know that the criminal is punished, but it is of little comfort to those who are affected by crime when they are released having being insufficiently rehabilitated.

There are many misconceptions about prisoners, as I have written previously many have serious mental health issues and others are simply a product of their environment. Yes, there is an element of free will, and some people commit despicable acts through nothing but there own volition, but anyone who suggests a criminal is not in any way shaped by their surroundings flies in the face of decades of psychological research.

Now, why is this all relevant to the issue at hand? Because, in my view, the argument against giving prisoners the vote has emotion very much at its heart. It generalises all prisoners to be the same evil beings with nothing but malice in their hearts. If you take that emotion out of the debate, then you can have a much more constructive sharing of opinion.

In my view, taking away the vote has no benefits, no-one is put off crime because of the fear they will no longer be able to vote, and I don't honestly believe any criminal sees their disenfranchisement as a serious punishment for the crime.

However, whilst it doesn't have benefits, it may well have negative consequences. You disenfranchise people from the political process, which could be irreversible. It means you have a system where voting is not an inalienable right but something which is earned. It would not be something I objected to if it was shown to produce results, but as I mentioned, for this loss I see no compensatory benefit.

The proposals that were put forward by Kenneth Clarke seemed to me to be a perfect compromise. I understand some people have strong feelings against serious offenders having the vote, but giving it to those in prison for under four years seemed very modest indeed.

Elections, under the new fixed parliament legislation, would be every five years. This would mean that someone imprisoned for under four years could leave prison and live in a society governed by people over whom they had no vote. It keeps the right to vote away from serious offenders, and even many moderate offenders, but means that those living in free society have a say over who governs them.

It saddens me to see some in my own party oppose even these very moderate suggestions, and of all the things I would wish a backbench Tory rebellion over this is the one I would least like to see. They rebel over these very modest changes yet stay staunchly loyal when Cameron and Clegg bend students and the NHS over a table. It's simply wrong.

Ed Miliband says something worth talking about!

I personally think that Ed Miliband was not the right choice for the position of Labour leader but today he has raised an issue quite personal to myself and at last has added a bit of context to the political arena. Outlining his vision for the future he stated that due to the numerous mistakes made by the coalition, 'the better-off in society would be able "to pass on privilege and wealth", he said middle and lower income groups would be disproportionately affected' (BBC 2011). This is an age old argument but one I wish to see the back of before my time is out (while dreaming is still tax free). He went on to argue that the coalition was out of touch with a 2011 British public especially attacking the un-progressive raising of tuition fee's - I am still at a loss as to how students will be forced to pay 3 times more for their degrees without the promise that value for money will treble.

One of his best quotes was, "You go from education maintenance allowance to what's happening to tuition fees, to apprenticeships, to child trust funds - to a whole range of things where the government is taking action setting back the chances of future generations." (BBC 2011). This mindset is one I share with Ed and I think one of the main things politicians are missing in Parliament is when debating policy, more so for health and education, is to continuously ask, where is the progress?

I don't think that the coalition is totally out of touch, there are still a few Lib Dem's hanging around with something to say to the annoyance of Cameron. The problem I have is that conservative led policy tends to be backwards in terms of social mobility and life experience and hard-line in terms of economics. The conservative party is filled with the over-privileged, as are most political parties in the UK, but it is the conservatives who tend to have no comprehension of the lives of the less well off and the disadvantaged and so to hold the belief that their policy is 'right' is like sticking your hand in a fire to test whether its hot. In other words the poor and the lower classes are subjects which can be contained and maintained by trying out change thought up by people who have absolutely no comprehension of what the people they are supposedly trying to help actually want.

This is Labours strong point and why they will win the next election by a landslide (even if Ed is a little blasé on economics).

What kinds of marriage should we allow?

I’m a second year History and Philosophy student at Lancaster Univeristy with a particular interest in applied ethics, which is where the topic for the blog comes from. This is a topic which has been increasingly hitting the comment pages in recent months, mainly thanks to the campaign to allow gay marriages and straight civil partnerships.

The waters are muddied by the wide range of definitions of marriage. Marvin Ellison offers three ‘traditional’ definitions: ‘one-flesh union’(a rather nasty patriarchal concept); “Marriage as a covenant”; and marriage as “passionate mutual love” (those two are much nicer). Ralph Wedgewood bases his definition on what he thinks people see marriage as now “(1) sexual intimacy; (2) domestic and economic cooperation; and (3) a voluntary mutual commitment to sustaining the relationship.” Wedgewood’s is a bit dodgy as he says that it’s easy to imagine marriage without one of these but they are essential; and goes on to say it’s easy imagine gay marriage so heterosexuality isn’t acceptable :s

More recently academics and commentators have gone for reductionism. Elizabeth Brake’s concept of ‘minimal marriage’ suggests we should only require a marriage to be a ‘caring relationship.’ Peter Tatchell argues for a system where ‘legal rights are granted to all relationships of mutual devotion and support.’ In these systems people do not have to exchange the full range of rights and responsibilities currently associated with marriage but can split them up among as many people as they wish.

I’m not a fan of the Brake and Tatchell approach, at least not fully; I think Brake’s system reduces marriage to friendship with no recognition of the value of relationships in which the participants intend to maintain the relationship indefinitely. This does not mean that a relationship cannot end if it’s not working, just that at the outset the partners genuinely do not perceive an end to the relationship. Put simply, that no one should enter into a marriage intending to have a divorce.

My compromise proposal is the adoption of Brake’s concept to provide a legal and societal recognition of complex modern ‘adult support networks’; that is, adults who support and care for each other. Yet I would propose a separate institution of marriage, allowing distribution of rights in the same way as Brake but recognising the value of committed long term relationships to society.

A few clarifications at this point. Firstly, this concept of marriage requires no religious affiliation though partners are of course free to have their relationship blessed if they wish. Secondly, gay marriage is allowed and given equal standing to straight marriages. Thirdly, if you want to read an argument against the general themes of this blog try here.

Brake’s argument is useful in providing a rather nice Rawlsian appeal to neutrality; it allows any consenting adult to grant those rights, responsibilities and entitlements associated with marriage to any other consenting adult it allows equally for polygamous or monogamous, homosexual or heterosexual marriages. My proposal would not impinge upon state neutrality as no additional rights or responsibilities are packaged up in marriage as opposed to recognised ‘caring relationships’.

I have some developed prudential arguments against allowing polygamous marriage but I don’t want to go on too much so I’ll leave that for another time, or feel free to ask me. Hope you enjoyed my first foray into the blogosphere.

It is time somebody came to the defence of Michael Gove.

***Reader warning - controversy will follow***

Michael Gove for those who don't know, is the Education Minister for the Coalition and has frequently been in the news, portrayed as a bumbling idiot who wants to take education back to the 19th Century. But is all the lefty-rhetoric insulting Gove justified in any way?

I'm going to go out on a limb here, with the knowledge that 75% of readers are going to vehemently disagree  with me and say - no.

The Telegraph led today with an article about "soft" A-Levels, by saying:
"A guide compiled by the Russell Group, which comprises 20 top universities including Oxford and Cambridge, to be released today, will advise students which A-level courses are favoured by admissions tutors."
Now apologies for those who this offends, but unsurprisingly media studies, art, photography and business studies weren't on the list. (I did business studies at A-Level and it was a piece-of-piss!) The courses on their own hold their own merit, but as preparation to study a university degree - they hold no weight.

Call me draconian, but I wouldn't like to see people waste £27,000+ if they aren't going to get a value-added degree from it. These subjects are vocational, not educational. Although, I'd say it is a bit offensive to say "Are you trying to avoid a challenge?" (As it does in the document) - because I'll tell you, my hardest challenge would to be draw more than a stickman in Art!

Gove himself said today:
"A generation have been betrayed by Labour ministers who denied poorer children the chance to go to top universities," 
He is referring to the fact that children were ill-advised when picking A-Levels. He seems within his rights to say this:
In 2004, about 15,000 non-academic qualifications were taken in schools. By 2010, this had risen to about 575,000.
Andy Gardner, a career adviser and representative of the Institute of Career Guidance agrees saying "state school pupils had faced a torrent of misleading information until now".

The average 16 year old

Previously Gove has come under heavy criticism regarding the English Baccalaureate, which focuses on English, Mathematics, two Sciences, a Foreign Language and History or Geography. Interestingly, The Russell Group continue to say:
By not studying at least two of the following subjects – maths, English, geography, history, any of the three pure sciences or a classical or modern foreign language – "many degrees at competitive universities will not be open to you"
Hmmm. So Gove wants to focus on subjects which will help you get into a top university. What a cretin! More interesting is that 7/10 people back the Bacc.

Which isn't surprising when last year more than one third of university entrants did not have "any recognised entry qualifications". As I've said before, university education needn't be the norm, it doesn't have to be the natural progression for students, Lefties will tell you that for the next generation of students university is more of a risk for students, so maybe it is time we stop pushing university down students throats (just like it was forced down mine) and consider apprenticeships and vocational studies.

Brilliantly, the readers of The Guardian have some funny comments on this, read them here.

Thursday, 3 February 2011

Judgement day for the NHS.

And so the debate has started on Andrew Lansley's 'Privatise the NHS' Bill. It isn't actually called that, but let's call a spade a spade, that's what it is. If this goes through, private companies will not just gain a toe-hold, but a massive foothold. Even the Tory MP and GP Sarah Woolaston likened the bill to 'throwing a grenade into the middle of the NHS'.

David Cameron today tried to sell the reforms by insisting that the NHS isn't good enough as it is, and that it needs reforms to catch up to health care systems around the world. He of course ignores the fact that often the NHS comes out very highly indeed in comparisons of systems, but let's address what he says about us not performing well.

The King's fund, a non-political and highly respected health think tank, say that the case for reform have been 'over-sold'. The figures being used by Cameron and Lansley only go up to diagnoses in 2002, just a year after the Labour government started to really drive up spending on health.

The Conservative's need to play down the success of the NHS, it's the only way they can sell reform. But there facts just do not stack up.

I have written extensively on this, which you can find here. I will leave you with the remarks of the Lancet. Anyone in science will know the high standards of the editorials in the Lancet, and its esteemed reputation. Their blunt analysis is this:

"As it stands, the UK Governments new bill spells the end of the NHS."

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

When growth is actually bad for you.

Hidden in the depths of the BBC is an article pointing out that the UK manufacturing sector has grown! Thankfully there are less biased organisations out there, who make this good news easier to find. The BBC is still blaming the UK & USA for the problems in Egypt. Bloody BBC! - but I'll save that for another time!

Back to the good news - after last week's disappointing negative growth, or flat growth, depending on if you take out the factor of snow (which yes, is actually crucial), today the Chartered Institute of Purchasing and Supply (CIPS) has announced that the UK manufacturing sector has expanded at its fastest pace since records began.

Good news for manufacturers

The boost has come from surprisingly high levels of demand from within the UK and abroad. But in the messed up economy we have inherited from Labour, high growth is actually bad. Bad I say.

How can growth in manufacturing be bad I hear you ask? Didn't evil Thatcher crush it 30 years ago? Surely a revival is good? Nope, nada. The growth is leading to inflationary pressure and as I've explained before, inflation in the UK economy right now, is very bad. The problem here is that the manufacturing sector uses a lot of raw materials and the cost of these materials is also rising at a high rate, leading to cost-push inflation (simply costs pushing up prices). More inflation will lead to the MPC voting for an increase in interest rates and then things really get tough.  

Crazy talk.

More people die from suicide than road accidents and murder combined.

Hello everyone.

The government has just announced a £400 million pound drive to improve the mental health services in this country. They've also set the rather ambitious target of miraculously "curing" one million sufferers in the next 4 years. Mental health problems currently cost the economy £77 billion a year, with sufferers of such illnesses as depression, PND and anorexia dying 10 years earlier than the rest of the population.

The NHS is, I believe, the best thing about this country, the fact we have free health care, where abroad it could cost hundreds or thousands of pounds for when the worst comes to the worst, is incredible. But the state the mental health services have got itself into is appalling. GP's do not know whether to throw pills at patients or whether to send them off to a mental health practitioner. The current rule at the moment for people wanting to receive mental health help is that they have to first see the GP for them to
give the go-ahead for treatment. There is no way around it. Treatment for sufferers is being given out by people whose area of expertise is elsewhere. It's like asking a plasterer to fix a boiler. Thankfully, this rule is being scrapped, giving patients the right to contact specialists themselves, or effectively 'forcing' GP's to refer them to people who can help, with or without tablets.
The news that such a large amount has been given towards helping erase the stigma of mental illness in these tough times is fantastic news of course. But the pessimist in me, and by god, is he a a pessimistic pessimist, cannot help but feel that it's been heard before.
4 years ago I started Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for OCD, after waiting a year and a half on the waiting list. As a sixteen year old, not knowing what the hell this meant, I researched CBT, and found that the Labour government at the time was pushing a new drive, employing 10,000 Cognitive Behavioural Therapists to try and solve Britains depression epidemic. My next paragraphs words have been carefully chosen in line with what Labour had promised.
The main reason why Labour liked the idea of CBT was that it was quick (taking round about 12 sessions to be cured), cheap (£173 million promising to permanently cure half of people with depression) and simple.

Let's just focus on the claims, they promise that CBT will permanently cure half of people with depression. There is not a single scientific study that supported this claim. It's true, CBT does help whilst you're on it, the main thought behind CBT is that negative thoughts and feelings will ultimately lead to anxiety, panic attacks and further depression, hilariously obvious, I know. The therapists are merely people who maim you into feeling good, throwing compliments towards you, never saying you're feeling or looking bad. Naturally whilst you're on CBT you feel fantastic, your confidence is up. As soon as you feel confident to go out into the mean wild world on you're own without CBT, quickly and surely, you fall back into your old patterns. This was my experience of CBT. But unlike Labour, I can back it up with scientific evidence. A widespread Scottish study in 2005 found that only 18% of patients who had received therapy for anxiety disorders still had no symptoms two years after treatment.
That's a long way off the 'half permanently cured' promise we were given, they've got to increase that figure by 32%.

5 years on, and they haven't been listening. They're employing hundreds more Cognitive Behavioural Therapists, for a therapy that doesn't work. It's as bad as having no treatment and giving the depressed nothing but Prozac. With the proposed return to GP fundholding as promised in this latest £400 million package, I cannot see GP's shelling out on expensive therapy sessions and specialised therapists when a prescription is so cheap and easy. The first thing this money should go on is cutting down the waiting list where people in need of mental help have been waiting for years.

If someone developed cancer, would they have to wait years to seek specialised help? Of course not. Then why should someone with a serious psychological problem have to? The package being given is a double edged sword. We're thankful for being given it, but extremely worried it's going to be spent in all the wrong areas.

Thanks for reading.
Have a lovely day.