Populism. “A Growing Sense of Hostility”.

The economist Joseph Schumpeter writes in his critique of capitalism that the profit motive prompts self-interest and egotistical behaviour. The economics student assumes this to be what constitutes rationality – the assumption upon which nearly the entire discipline is based. It therefore follows that each individual in the population strives towards the greatest monetary payoff they can find, and from this derives utility, or satisfaction. In this way, individuals, organisations and firms are all destined to act in their own interests – perhaps explaining the intrinsic capitalist desire for acquisition.

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Hiroshima: Was It ‘Necessary’?

J. Samuel Walker wrote, on the atomic bombing of Hiroshima on August 6th, 1945, that ‘The fundamental issue that has divided scholars . . . is whether the use of the bomb was necessary to achieve victory in the war in the Pacific on terms satisfactory to the United States.’1 This piece tries to solve the ‘fundamental issue’—was the bomb necessary from Washington’s perspective? Continue reading

Capitalism, Affluence and Happiness

‘Happiness’ is challenging to define. The United Nations, in its ‘World Happiness Report’, distinguishes between happiness and satisfaction in that happiness is based on the short-term, ‘did you smile or laugh a lot yesterday?’, and satisfaction the long-term ‘how do you feel about your life as a whole?’. Responses to these surveys are then combined to give each country a score. Two other measures of happiness are suicide rates and the incidence of mental illness. The first, while influenced by factors external to life satisfaction such as the role of religion and average hours of sunlight, certainly correlates with the level of severe unhappiness. The second is perhaps even more linked, the UN found the incidence of mental health problems to have the strongest correlation with unhappiness of all the factors they measured.

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Guatemala: A Rotten Apple

In 1944, a popular revolution in Guatemala overthrew the US-backed dictator, a vicious tyrant named Jorge Ubico. Out of the revolution came Guatemala’s first democratic election, won by Juan José Arévalo. The new leader, Arévalo, established a liberal, capitalist society, basically modelled on Roosevelt’s New Deal. He implemented a minimum wage law, increased educational funding and introduced near-universal suffrage.

Six years later, in 1950, Arévalo’s defence minister Jacobo Árbenz was elected President. Árbenz continued the social reforms and granted land to peasants who were victims of debt slavery before Arévalo. Together, the two post-Revolution leaders had brought about the most democratic government Guatemala had ever had. All was relatively good, it seemed. But policy makers in the US were not happy. Despite the policies born out of the Revolution being moderate and, despite the fact that only four out of fifty seats in Congress were held by communists, the US government saw the new society as exactly that – communist. Why? Because of the United Fruit Company.

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On Government Surveillance

Many of the arguments against mass government surveillance – the kind that GCHQ carries out – are deeply ideological. Those on the left see their comrades fighting for something and join in. There are, however, very good arguments in favour of significantly reducing the powers of GCHQ which, as the Snowden files tell us, carries out espionage on a stunning scale.

In the late 18th century, Jeremy Bentham designed a building called the Panopticon. It was designed primarily for use as a prison. A single watchman stands in the middle of the building and can see every cell; however, the inmates cannot see the watchman. He is hidden behind a contrivance – some blinds, say. Although a cellmate is unlikely to be being watched at any given time, it is the possibility of being watched at the present moment that leads him to change his behaviour; he accordingly acts as though he is being watched all the time.

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“Gladstone” somebody said again. For the eighteenth time today, here at the Liberal Democrat party conference in Glasgow, the grand old man’s name was invoked again. Would he, though, be spinning in his grave? Certainly some Lib Dem policy has been centrist rather than distinctly Liberal in the traditional sense, however I have yet to come across anybody who claims to be SDP rather than a Liberal. Even if it were the case that Liberals rather than centrists flock to conference, that would not explain this anomaly. Policy is decided by a mixture of a vastly complicated and technical voting system (for committees, executives, sub-committees, presidents, etc) and by senior party figures who draft what is voted on. The voters all seem to be Liberals in the old sense; equally it is hard to spot a senior figure who is a centrist either.

The few who are from the SDP, such as Vince Cable, play little to no part in drafting policy. Why then, is the party not producing the kind of radical Liberalism espoused by Jeremy Brown’s Race Plan – a book detailing a return to economic as well as social liberalism? Jeremy Brown is not alone in this regard: David Laws (the key author of the Lib Dem manifesto so far), Nick Clegg (a former Conservative under Thatcher) and Danny Alexander are all economic Liberals, and are all senior figures in the economic direction of the party. There are the Orange-Bookers – a group of economically Liberal intellectuals within the party who very much have their voice heard. Yet despite the predominance of Liberals, in membership, seniority and on the various arcane bodies of the party the policy remains unsure of itself.

The truth is two-fold: part of the party is scared to displease anybody, partly fearing the loss of membership backing senior figures would allegedly get if they forsook all SDP ideas (but any remaining SDPers are few, dead or have drifted even further from their original party), partly fearing that they cannot win Labour marginal seats with any kind of liberal economic policies. The Lib Dems like to believe that if they fought a good enough campaign in every seat, they would win every single constituency in Parliament. There are seats the Lib Dems can never win, many of them are the aforementioned Labour marginal – and if these seats are won (they sometimes are), it is because of the Lib Dem’s huge strengths as a grass roots campaigning party, not on account of their national policies. There is a certain childish obsession with the idea that if only the resources were present the Liberals would have nobody to disagree with – because their policies are the best of every world. That is a view to take, but an absurd one.

The economic policies in contradiction to one another are not signs of the strength of internal debate in the party, but rather signs of a party incapable of dedicating itself to an idea. This does not bode well for a party already pilloried in the media for having a leader who does not stand for anything. But not all is doom and gloom, recent polling shows young voters are very much turned on by economically (dare I say Gladstonian?) liberal principles. They like small state, they like less welfare. The young also like gay marriage, they like social liberalism, and they trust the Lib Dems as being its deliverers. There is a whole generation of voters who could potentially be wooed if the Lib Dems would shake off a decades-long paranoia and embrace their true identity. A commitment to an idea would not go down badly in other generations, polls show that parties with convictions on issues earn the respect of voters- for the Lib Dems their commitment to civil liberties earned them support in suburbia.

The issue now lies with who will take the reins of the party when Nick Clegg steps down (whether it is in 2015 or 2020) – if it’s Tim Farron, he will be economically Liberal to some extent, but he, having lived through the merger, lives in fear of repercussions. Better to choose a committed Liberal in the true sense, in Jeremy Brown or David Laws. The party has a lot going for it, but it needs to make clear what it is going for.

Contributed by Gabriel Barton-Singer

“He lines up, He loses, He goes home”

After personally attacking the new Commissioner, alienating nearly every political leader in Europe and condemning the European machine David Cameron claims he “will now work with” Jean- Claude Juncker. However, the question on most people’s minds is whether the future President of the EU will work with him?
Britain has always been referred to as the “awkward partner” in Europe, and that has never been truer than now. After spending the last two weeks fighting against the European People’s party’s nomination for Commission presidency, Jean- Claude Juncker, Cameron has once again placed Britain at loggerheads with Europe. In a recent article for The Telegraph he stated “an important principle was at stake” at the forced vote on the Commission presidency last Friday, arguing that the European Parliament should not have a say in the appointment of the EU commissioner. The new rules laid out in the 2007 Lisbon Treaty means the European Council- the elected Heads of State of each EU member country- must now take into account the European Parliament’s choice of candidate for nomination.
Cameron also argues that Juncker is an arch-federalist who will see the ‘ever closer union’ of Europe. In some respects this is true. As the previous President of Luxembourg, a country that majorly benefits from the EU, he is likely to fight for further integration. He is also seen as one of the architects of the Euro. Moreover, the future Commissioner has openly stated in the past that he was for ‘secret dark debates’ that could leave Britain outside the negotiating room. However Juncker’s recent promises to ‘address UK concerns’ over its place in Europe has left the Prime minister ‘humiliated’ according to Ed Miliband.
The Labour leader claims that Cameron’s ability to win over only one country, Hungary, to vote against Juncker at last Friday’s summit leaves his European renegotiation strategy “in tatters”. Also stating he was “out-witted, out-manoeuvred and out-voted” in Europe. German media have ridiculed the ‘defeated’ PM, comparing Cameron to Wayne Rooney: “He lines up, he loses, he goes home”.
Criticisms have also come from within the coalition. Former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy attacked the Prime minister in Parliament today for the removal of the Conservatives from the European People’s party, as the Prime minister could have “influenced in private instead of [showing] impotence in public”. However this largely highlights the bigger issue within the European Union: the lack of democracy. The debate over the next EU commissioner has become highly heated as the unelected position wields great amounts of power over the European Commission, the only body that can initiate new laws within the EU.Deputy Prime minister Nick Clegg has remained relatively silent throughout the affair, stating only that it was time to “move on” from Juncker’s appointment to “secure Britain’s place permanently in the European Union”.
There does, however, seem to be some light at the end of the tunnel for Britain. The vice-president of the European Commission, Joaquin Almunia, has stated that “it would be very bad news” if the UK were to leave Europe; suggesting a deal may be struck for renegotiation. Talking about the new President of the EU, he commented that while Mr Juncker was “a committed pro-European” he was also a “pragmatic politician”.

Contributed by George Waddell

Sudetenland 2.0

A country invades a large region of another because they claim that the region in question is comprised of people from their own nation. This is something that we have all heard before during GCSE history lessons on the lead up to WW2. Clearly Mr Putin was not listening in class, as it is the exact same pathetic excuse for an invasion that he has trotted out in response to the outcry caused by his illegal annexation of Crimea.

In November of 2013, Viktor Yanukovich, the then President of the Ukraine, announced the abandonment of a trade agreement with the EU, and that he wanted to seek closer ties with the ex KGB, AK-47 wielding, chest revealing Vladimir Putin. This caused considerable outrage in the Ukraine, especially Kiev, as the western parts of the country are strongly pro-EU and are abhorrent of the Russian regime, a country devastated by the Stalinist purges of the 1930’s. Ukraine was liberated only 23 years ago when the Soviet Union broke up. On December the 1st, 300,000 people gathered in Independence Square in Kiev to protest, and the City Hall was seized. By January the 16th anti-protest laws were introduced which were immediately described as ‘draconian’ as they took away the human right to protest in a similar manner to Tony Blair’s anti-terror laws took away the right to dance around naked in front of your webcam without GCHQ taking photos of you. It was then that people started to die…

On January 22nd Ukrainian police fired upon the crowd with live ammunition. Two died and another followed when he clashed with riot police. Dmytrov Bulatov, an opposition activist was found outside of the city having been imprisoned and tortured for eight days by pro-Russian groups. On the 16th of February it seemed like a ceasefire between the Government and its people was in sight when protesters returned control of city hall in exchange for the release of 234 imprisoned activists. Two days later clashes re-erupted after changes to constitutional reform were stalled. 18 people died and over a hundred were injured. Another two days later and within 48 hours, 88 people had been killed by Government snipers shooting into the crowds.

President Yanukovich then fled the capital after a vote in Parliament determined his removal and the release of his previous political opponent, Yulia Tymoshenko from prison. With the now wavering ties he had with the country now disappearing, Putin started to play. On the 27th armed men seized governmental buildings in Crimea, the Crimean parliament determined May 25th as the date of referendum and the fleeing pro-Russian ex-president Yanukovich was granted refuge in Russia. Simferopol international airport, in Crimea, was then seized along with Sevastopol naval base by further armed men in unmarked combat fatigues, Russia denied that they were theirs. By the 1st of March the Russian Upper House had approved the use of military force in not only Crimea, but in the whole of the sovereign state of Ukraine.

“There can be one assessment of what happened in Kiev and Ukraine as a whole. This was an anti-constitutional takeover and armed seizure of power.” These were words spoken by Putin himself which, do not imply he is having any thoughts of stopping at taking just Crimea, but Ukraine as a whole, if not more.

Within the next week, convoys of hundreds of Russian soldiers marched towards the regional capital of Crimea. The Russian Black Sea Fleet ordered the Ukrainian Navy in Sevastopol to surrender to them, or face a military assault. Putin then stated that “The legitimate president, purely legally, is undoubtedly Yanukovich.”, surprising as that was also Putin’s favourite candidate, and that “We reserve the right to use all available means. And we believe that this is fully legitimate.” when speaking on the issue of ‘protecting’ the people of eastern Ukraine.

The notorious referendum was then held in Crimea, by order of Putin, which contravened many principles of what a referendum actually is. The vote received 96.77% of the vote, apparently, making it one of the most successful referendums ever. There have been some questions over the integrity of this unquestionably truthful referendum, that included the fact that hundreds of Ukrainians, left for security reasons or were kicked out and that the indigenous Tatars suffered widespread intimidation. Furthermore a Russian journalist living in Crimea told them that she was Russian and only lived in Crimea for a very short time, was positively encouraged to vote, even though this was not legal.

After the vote, Russia recognised Crimea as a sovereign state and no longer part of Ukraine.
The crisis, although with less coverage in the news, is not over. Many towns and cities along Ukraine’s eastern border have been seized, Donetsk, Luhansk, Kharkiv and Slavyansk as well as further naval and military bases have been taken by pro-Russian activists who have asked Putin to send military force. The conflict is showing little sign of abating and with Putin’s already expressed views of his contempt for the fall of the Soviet Union, it is unlikely it will do any time soon. We no longer know whether it is just Ukraine on the menu, or whether he would like to try a taste of Finland or Estonia, who have both reported fear in the knowledge that Russia has had extensive military exercises along their borders. And being the superpower that they are, not even America has the balls to come out and tell them where to go. Maybe the Cold War was not over, maybe it was just waiting.

Contributed by Daniel Gibbs

Should Taxpayers Fund the Monarchy in Times of Economic Hardship?

Last week the Public Accounts Committee released a report on the Sovereign Grant paid to the Queen each year calling for the Royal Household to get ‘a much firmer grip’ on its budget; but in times of austerity cuts to almost every governmental department should the tax payer continue to subsidise the Windsor’s at all?

The British Monarchy is not just of traditional value to the United Kingdom, but brings millions to the UK each year through the Crown Estate and tourism. The Crown Estate is the land ‘surrendered’ to the British Government at the beginning of each Monarch’s reign, in return for the their annual salary. Since 2011, the annual profits from the Estate have totalled £240.2 million annually, and with only 15% of that forming the Monarch’s annual salary- the Sovereign Grant- it all adds up for the tax payer. If the Monarchy were to be removed however, the state would most probably lose the Crown Estate along with it; meaning to completely remove the Monarchy would be a bad decision not just for British culture, but economically as well.

Tourism is a massive sector in the UK; accounting for £96 billion of England’s GDP (8.6% of the economy) as of 2009 and employs around 2 million people- 4% of the work force. Much of what makes the UK the 8th biggest tourist destination in the world is our Monarchy. The Tower of London is the most popular UK attraction, with three castles featuring in the top 15. Although it is argued by many that these buildings would still be there if the Monarchy were removed, what draws the 3.5 million North American and 21.5 million European tourists each year is that the history is still very much alive today in Britain- something that would be irreplaceable if the Monarchy were to be removed. It was estimated by consultancy Brand Finance in 2012 that the net value of the Monarchy is £44bn, though the methodology used to draw this conclusion has been questioned by many. This is not to say, however, that the Royal Household’s spending and management is not in need of reform.

In 2012-13 the net expenditure of the Royal Household was £33.3 million, a £2.3 million overspend from their budget, a major argument behind Chairwoman Margaret Hodge’s report appealing for the Household to improve its long term planning and management of the budget. Hodge stated there was ‘huge scope for savings’, as the body managed to escape much of public sector austerity; reducing spending by only 5% in the last six years and maintaining the same staffing levels at a time when many public sector jobs have been cut. Meanwhile, the report praised the Household’s increased income of £11.5 million- an increase of £4.9 million from 2007/08- but said it was not ‘looking after nationally important heritage properties adequately’ as 39% of the Estate was deemed to be under the acceptable condition. Moreover, the PCA argued the Queen could do a lot more to increase her income, for example opening Buckingham Palace for longer than the 78 days a year it is open at the moment to increase the number of tourists and therefore revenue created from the Palace.

The Treasury, meanwhile, is supposed to be overseeing Royal spending but has of yet been inefficient in this capacity. The PAC’s report demands the Treasury to have a more active role in scrutinising spending, offering advice on key challenges for the Household and giving it clear incentives to become a more efficient body. It is hoped the department will also deal with the great transparency issues with the Queen’s personal income as, although the introduction of the Sovereign Grant has improved this, there is still not nearly as much transparency as there is with other public spending. British pressure group Republic argues that until the monarchy’s exemption from the Freedom of Information Act is removed, transparency cannot be achieved. Republic also stated that the ‘MPs on the Commons Public Accounts Committee have missed key issues in their report on Royal funding’. Their ‘Alternative Budget’ estimating the real cost of the Monarchy to the taxpayer is well over £200 million once hidden costs have been taken into account.

Whether the cost of the British Monarchy is the £33.2 million of the Sovereign Grant or Republic’s Alternative Budget of over £200 million, the statistics still suggest that a state funded Monarchy is a viable expense for the taxpayer producing £240.2 million from the Crown State and contributing massively to the tourist industry, even in times of economic hardship.

Contributed by George Waddell

Can Religion and Politics make Happy Bedfellows?

In every-day life, two of the most controversial topics of discussion are politics and religion. What happens when you bring them together? Napoleon used religion to indoctrinate the French people so that he could increase his power. Consequently, the Catholic Church had great influence over the politics of France; however, 200 years on, religion plays only a minor part in French politics due to the diversity in religious belief which has diluted the power that religion can have.

In modern politics, the popularity of an election candidate can depend on their religious views. In big secular societies such as the UK, if a politician was to declare that they were a Christian, depending on the constituency they were looking to represent, this could have either a positive or a negative impact on the voters. However, the direct opposite can be seen in America where a President has to declare himself a Christian to even stand a chance of running for office. This is due to the prevalence of Christianity in American society and results in religion having a significant impact on American politics. How often has a President’s speech ended with the strap-line of ‘God bless the United States of America.’ The difference between the two countries attitudes towards religion shows the psychological diversity that can exist between different secular states.

Although religion plays an integral part in American politics, it does not necessarily influence their policy. For example, in California, gay marriage has been legalised however the state of California is under a Republican Senator and Republicans are often associated with conservatism whilst Democrats are associated more with liberalism. This shows that although America is secular most Americans conform to the same religious belief. An explanation for this could be that religion is used to garner votes rather than guidance for governing.

A prime example of religion in recent British politics is that of Tony Blair. When he was Prime Minister he made no reference to religion at all but it was only when he stood down as Prime Minister that he made his religious beliefs as a catholic known to the extent that he had an audience with the Pope. It would have been interesting to see the public’s reaction to Tony Blair had he revealed his religious belief whilst he was Prime Minister. Suffice to say, it would have made justifying some of his decisions harder.

Saudi Arabia is a polar opposite to the U.K. as it has an Islamist government. Conservative religious values provide the foundations for its internal politics and this is due to Sharia law. However, there is no freedom of speech in Saudi Arabia and although this would seem to not have anything to do with religion, history shows that many religious establishments had the same problem. Religious establishments historically have worked with many previous rulers claiming that they have been appointed by divine command however the direction of travel in modern society indicates that divine command is no longer a legitimate justification to rule by. In Saudi Arabia, along with other Middle Eastern countries every aspect of their way of life is governed by religion.

In conclusion, it is evident that there is an unhappy balance between religion and politics although in theory, they should both be able to co-exist. It seems to be nearly impossible for there to be a good and peaceful balance for people living under an establishment with religious political views as can be seen by the uprisings in both Syria and Egypt over the past few years.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo

A Tale of Two Republican Parties

The Republican Party of the United States has become increasingly divided between two embattled factions – the Bush-era party elite that dominates the urban northeast and the party grassroots, largely in Southern and Western states, many of whom affiliate with the constitutionalist Tea Party movement. These two groups have clashed on countless issues over the past few months, including but not limited to Obamacare, Syria and the NSA.

In May 2013, The Guardian announced it had groundbreaking news regarding the US National Security Agency. A leaker, Edward Snowden, had revealed to them a mass surveillance program on a scale far beyond anything previously imagined. Just a few months before, the NSA Director James Clapper had categorically denied that such a program existed during Senate Committee hearings. This announcement proved divisive among both left and right in the United States. The Obama administration and their allies in Congress defended the NSA and denied the allegations, with only dissent from their Progressive Caucus. Most senior Republicans, having greatly expanded the powers of the NSA during the Bush administration, refrained from criticism. Several Republican leaders and potential 2016 presidential contenders weighed in, highlighting the split between the authoritarian Republican Party of George W. Bush and the libertarian-leaning Tea Party.

The conservative grassroots and their allies in the Republican backbenches rapidly denounced the NSA. Tea Party groups like FreedomWorks and Campaign for Liberty, citing this as yet another example of the President’s increasingly authoritarian policies, led anti-NSA rallies in Washington. Likewise, their figureheads in Congress became the NSA’s harshest critics. Senator Rand Paul of Kentucky was the most vehement in his opposition to the NSA, filing a class action lawsuit against the agency and declaring Snowden a “civil disobedient” on par with Martin Luther King and Clapper a “traitor” who “lied to Congress”. Paul’s personal ties to Snowden run deep: Paul’s legal advisor, Bruce Fein happens to be the lawyer of Snowden’s father, while Edward Snowden himself donated to the presidential campaign of Rand’s father, Ron Paul. Senator Ted Cruz of Texas held a similar tone on the issue, claiming that Snowden had done his nation a “considerable public service” through the leaks, while California Congressman Tom McClintock and Utah Senator Mike Lee expressed support for granting Snowden clemency. In July 2013, Michigan Congressman Justin Amash introduced a bipartisan amendment to curb the NSA’s overreach. It failed 205-217, but Amash intends to reintroduce it this year, where he believes increased constituent pressure on the issue will help it pass the House of Representatives.

By contrast, former 2012 presidential candidate Rick Santorum, who served as a Senator for Pennsylvania during the Bush presidency, claimed the surveillance was not “a security risk to the country, to individuals or an invasion of privacy”. New York Congressman Peter King, Chairman of the House Committee on National Security quickly backed him up, declaring “These people in the NSA are patriots”. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, a former prosecutor appointed by Bush, agreed, stating that he believed criticism of the NSA from members of both parties to be “dangerous”. John Bolton, a prominent neoconservative who took a number of roles in the Bush administration (including Ambassador to the United Nations), went even further, openly proclaiming that Snowden “ought to swing from a tall oak tree” for his treason; his vivid description reminiscent of political lynching in the 1930s Deep South. The Republican National Committee remained silent until January of this year, when they voted to adopt a resolution condemning the NSA, under massive constraint from their supporters.

In September of 2013, the district of Ghouta, Damascus was hit by a sarin gas attack and the West believed the Syrian dictator, Bashar al-Assad, to be responsible. Immediately, Obama’s liberal internationalists and Bush’s neoconservatives alike united to call for military action against Syria. The Democrats introduced an “Authorization of Military Force” or AUMF into the House and the Senate. Neoconservative Republican Senators swiftly endorsed it, with the 2008 presidential nominee John McCain describing it as “catastrophic” if the US were not to intervene. Once again, Rand Paul and his Liberty Caucus provided vocal opposition to this push, echoing the very same views expressed in the same chamber by Robert Taft 70 years prior: it is not the role of the United States to police the world. Paul also argued that intervention in Syria would serve to aid extremist groups like the Muslim Brotherhood and Al-Qaeda, instantly refuting potential attempts to portray him as soft on the War on Terror. Dozens of conservative Republicans in both the House and Senate joined him. This surge of non-interventionism led the President to delay the House vote by a week, during which time the Syrians (with Russian support) came forward and agreed to negotiate a handover of their chemical weapon stockpiles. Rand Paul had prevailed – the United States had avoided involvement in what could otherwise have been yet another expensive war in the Middle East.

Paul may be the most prominent, but he is not the only leader within this individualist wing of the Republican Party. An issue he perhaps deferred to others on was the anti-Obamacare effort, spearheaded by constitutional lawyers and freshmen Senators Cruz and Lee on the federal level and conservative Governors such as Wisconsin’s Scott Walker on the state level.

The 1st of October was the beginning of a new fiscal year and therefore a spending bill had to be passed in order to sustain the full functionality of the federal government. Cruz insisted that the Republicans agree to this only if the bill defunded Obamacare, the President’s health insurance mandate (signed into law in 2010 when the Democrats controlled both Houses of Congress). Cruz decided to deliver a 21-hour filibuster, the 4th longest in US history, in order to articulate his disdain for Obamacare and draw attention to his cause. His ideological acolytes in the House, impressed by his speech, agreed to his plan. The Obama administration objected to this move and the Democrats, who also controlled the Senate, demanded that funding for Obamacare continue. Many deemed what followed to be a “government shutdown” – this description is rather misleading, as only 15% of the federal government that which was considered ‘nonessential’ was shut down. Irate moderate Republicans decried the move – McCain accused Cruz of acting in a “shameful” manner, while King described it as a “fool’s error” and called Cruz a “fraud”. Regardless, House Republicans persisted for 16 days, before the GOP leadership caved and agreed to pass a continuing resolution that would fund the entire federal government once again, Obamacare included, a move that was interpreted as surrender by the Democrats and betrayal by the Tea Party. Support for the Republicans plummeted as the liberal media succeeded in portraying them as anarchists and extremists for having attempted this strategy, though they soon recouped it when on October 1st, the launch of the Obamacare website, Healthcare.gov, proved disastrous, with thousands reporting technical problems. Ted Cruz and the Tea Party had been right – Obamacare was destined to be a failure.

The conservative battle against Obamacare continued on the state level – the Republican Governors of 20 states refused to allow the expansion of Medicaid as part of Obamacare through the establishment of Obamacare exchanges. Moderate Governors affiliated with the Republican establishment, such as Christie, Ohio’s Jim Kasich and New Mexico’s Susana Martinez (all of whom are regarded as viable Republican presidential candidates) did not attempt to defy the federal government on this issue, once again showing a stark disparity to their Tea Party counterparts.

Although many believe politicians like Rand Paul and Ted Cruz to be leading the Republican Party down the road to ideological absolutism, much of their platform consists of common sense policies that appeal to Americans on the right, left and centre. Polls have shown that a majority of Americans support auditing the Federal Reserve, limiting surveillance both by the NSA and by domestic drones, cutting foreign aid, staying out of new conflicts in the Middle East, cutting income tax, improving border security, ending corporate welfare and reforming the country’s harsh mandatory minimum sentencing laws, all causes espoused by the likes of Paul and Cruz. Republican and Democratic political orthodoxy has traditionally been to move in a more moderate direction come election time, but with traditional frontrunners like Hillary Clinton and Chris Christie marred by scandal and Barack Obama’s failure to deliver on his populist message of “Hope and Change”, there may just be an opportunity for maverick libertarian Republicans and this could steer such candidates towards success in 2014, 2016 and beyond.

Contributed by Jay Patel

Thailand: Blood, Sweat and Political Fears

We in the United Kingdom think of Thailand as a peaceful place, one of good food, low cost clothes factories and the notorious ‘Full Moon’ parties. And usually these go by day to day with little or no disturbance, with the occasional overdose here and the celebrity cover up lady boy there. However, this is not the true picture of modern Thailand. Modern Thailand is one of political turmoil and democratic upheaval. The problems regularly featured in the news today are ones that started over ten years ago in 2001.

The 9th of February 2001, the leader and founder of the Thai Rak Thai party, Thaksin Shinawatra is elected as the 23rd Prime Minister of Thailand. He formed a coalition with three other parties, the Chart Thai Party, the New Aspiration Party and the Seritham Party creating a government that should’ve been representative and loved by all. It wasn’t. Unfortunately for Shinawatra, he was elected in a country in which the rich are very rich, and the poor are desperately poor. Yet more unfortunate for the new leader, he represented the people that in developing countries always have the measliest of voices in the political arena, the working class. When he was elected in 2001, 21% of the populous of Thailand lived below the poverty line. Representing them however angered the highly influential and diabolically dangerous urban elite. By 2006 the extravagant chattering classes came knocking at his door, and they brought with them a tidal wave of damnation. His party was faced with allegations of corruption, authoritarianism, conflicts of interest, acting non- diplomatically, muzzling the press and treason. Thaksin himself was accused of tax evasion, selling Thai assets to international bodies and most detrimental of all, due to his astonishing power, was the crime of lèse majesté, which is insulting King Bhumibol. With the backing of the King himself, the most revered and respected entity in the whole of Thailand, it would’ve taken a miracle to save Shinawatra. His miracle didn’t come.

While he was abroad on Prime Ministerial business, a coup, sanctioned by the King himself overthrew his government and left him in the political equivalent of being a gay athlete in the Winter Olympics, out in the cold. His assets were frozen and he was left wandering the globe in search of asylum. He even bought Manchester City football club in an effort to forget his failed leadership by managing something even less successfully. By March 2010 the country had turned back into his favour and there were massive demonstrations in which the army clashed with the public killing dozens of people. However this did not silence the public, and within the short space of a year, Thaksin’s sister, Yingluck Shinawatra was duly elected as the Prime Minister.

A comparatively spacious and happy period was enjoyed by Yingluck but by November of last year, while Ukraine was falling into political turmoil, there were yet again the appearance of anti-government protests. By December, an election was called, but the South-east Asian country still shows no sign of settling down, much like a night-out in a Thai strip club with oddly square jaw lines. Foul political play is now in session, like a malevolent episode of The Thick of It, the Constitutional Court has called an annulment of the election. The party has said that the election and the polls have disregarded the Thai constitution by such trivial matters as the fact that the polls were conducted over more than one day. In the constitution it says that if an election is disrupted then it can be recalled, this means that if a party does not believe that they can win a majority in an election then they can simply arrange riots in order to delay further.

This begs the question to why the Thai political scene is in such a permanent state of uproar. The point at which Thailand was finally tripped over the precipice, was when the Thai Monarchy which has been the may pole around which their society has danced for thousands of years, started to meddle in the affairs of politicians and corrupted itself. Democracy needs to be balanced around a point of unmoving reverence. In the United States there is the near religious admiration of the Stars and Stripes. In Italy there is the Catholic Church holding all of politics together. Where we find a lack of democracy, such as in China, we do not find such a symbol. The desanctifying of the Constitutional Monarchy on Thailand, means that we cannot expect the democratic nature of the country to last for much longer. Therefore it is highly unlikely that the stability of the country will endure the next few bouts of rallies and protests, and we are more than likely to see the fall of what is normally quite a militarily peaceful country, will be plunged into a bloody and brutal civil war.

Contributed by Daniel Gibbs

Is Labour’s Relationship with the Trade Unions an Unhealthy One?

In 1900, the Trade Union Congress (TUC) held a Conference, and formed a pressure group called the ‘Labour Representation Committee’. This group quickly became a political party, and saw an unprecedented ascendancy to the upper reaches of British politics, winning their first general election just 24 years after formation, in 1924. While it had established itself as an entity separate from the Trade Unions that had brought it into being, the affiliation between the Labour party and the Trade Unions has continuously developed, its progress relatively unchecked. The influence of these Unions on the party that has spent a total of 30 years in power since the end of World War Two has often been argued to be excessive, and a reform to this relationship has been a long time coming. But it seems like a first step towards the separation of the two is being taken, ironically, by the man who owes his position in the party to the support from the Trade Unions: Ed Miliband.

Every worker who joins a Trade Union pays a fee, a small amount of which goes to the Labour party. But given that there are almost 6 million people represented by Trade Unions in the UK, these affiliation fees add up to as much as 50% of the party’s annual income. A Trade Union member is able to opt out of paying this money, but many aren’t aware of this – which is one of the things Miliband is keen to reform, with a requirement to actively opt-in to affiliation. In return for the funding that allows the Labour party to compete with the Conservatives (whose primary source of income is from donations), the Unions and the people they represent are afforded a number of privileges within the party. 12 of the 32 members of the National Executive Committee, the primary policy-making body, are selected by Unions. 50% of the delegates to the Labour Party Conference are elected by Unions. And most importantly, they have votes in any party ballot – including the leadership elections. Every Trade Union member has a vote, and the Unions’ votes make up one third of the total.

The 2010 leadership election, after the resignation of Gordon Brown, saw the Unions’ block of votes prove crucial in deciding the next leader of the party. The election is done using the alternative vote electoral system, with three groups each having a third of the vote: the party MPs and MEPs, the party members, and the Trade Union members. The two most popular candidates were the Miliband brothers, Ed and David, although there were five in total. To understand the details of the results, you have to understand that it is not simply one vote per person; each of the three blocks are attributed 33.33% of the total vote, and so each individual vote merely affects the percentage for its block. A vote from one of the 266 MPs/MEPs counts for a great deal more, therefore, than one from one of the 200,000 affiliated Trade Union members. In the first round of voting, David had the support of 27 more MPs/MEPs and 18,000 more party members, but Ed’s lead of 30,000 in the Trade Union votes stopped David from getting the majority he needed, despite winning a plurality of votes. It wasn’t until the fourth and final round of voting that Ed took the lead. He still had 2.3% less support than David from MPs/MEPs, and 2.9% less from party members, but his 6.5% lead in Trade Union votes took him past 50%, with a majority of just over half a percent. Had the Trade Unions not had a vote, David would’ve won by a majority of almost 4%.

While the Unions technically don’t have control over how their members vote, they are allowed to support a candidate. Ed Miliband’s campaign was reportedly given contact details for every Union member, while other candidates were denied these lists, and some Unions even sent letters along with the voting form, in breach of party rules, asking their members to vote for Ed. The undue influence of MPs in this voting system has been criticised before, but this was surely worse – a leadership election decided by people who weren’t even part of the party. We wouldn’t let the French decide who our Prime Minister is, so why would a party allow themselves to be dominated like this? Essentially, it comes down to tradition – and finances. Many in the party still feel a strong connection to the Unions that founded it and the impact should the Unions withdraw funding would be immense. Given the uproar that would inevitably greet any suggestion of changing this system, it was somewhat of a surprise when Ed Miliband, champion of the Trade Unions, announced his plan to ‘mend, not end’ the symbiotic relationship that tethers them to one another.

Unfortunately, Miliband has since shown an inability to enforce his ideas. First he cleared the Unions after accusations of electoral malpractice in the now infamous Falkirk candidate selection, and then backing down over the majority of proposed reforms after the threat of losing as much as £4 million a year in funding, a compromised change to the leadership elections is now his major channel of reform. The significant change is the movement away from block voting, to a ‘one member, one vote’ system. On the face of it, this would massively reduce the impact of MPs on the election, and increase that of the union members, who were 200,000 of the 310,000 voters in the 2010 leadership election. However, there are further changes being suggested to counter this. The move from the complex opt-out system affiliation fees to opt-in is expected to dramatically reduce the amount of Trade Union members eligible to vote (as well as put a significant dent in party funding). However, Miliband hopes those loyal to the party will instead pay £3 directly to the party, in exchange for the right to vote in leadership elections. The Unions will be allowed to keep their other privileges, such as deciding members of the NEC and Party Conference (for now), and the MPs anger about losing influence alleviated by making them the sole source of nominations for candidates to stand in the election.

This appears to be an excellent idea. The MPs and Unions are happy(ish), and the party can move back to its traditional place as the people’s party, with their leader decided by supporters, not benefactors. But there are still serious questions over whether this reform alone is enough to address the dangerous levels of influence the Unions will still hold, not to mention doubts about whether enough people will ‘opt-in’ to the basic party membership to replace vital income lost in affiliation fees. While some still question Miliband’s legitimacy in decreasing the influence of Unions in leadership election given that it was this same influence that helped him pip his brother to the post, it is widely agreed that this relationship was not healthy – neither for the Labour party or for British politics in general – and something had to be done. The consequences could well be disastrous for the party, and Miliband is a brave man to be putting his head on the line by forcing it through – but if it comes off, he will have addressed an issue that has long clouded the Labour party’s integrity, and this reform could be the first step in moving the Unions away from Parliamentary influence, and instead to doing their job, representing the workers. In many ways Ed Miliband still seems to be lacking the leadership skills required to potentially be running our country from 2015, and incidents such as Falkirk only enhance that feeling – but he is undoubtedly doing the right thing in attempting to reform this poisonous relationship, before Labour’s position as a Parliamentary party, and upholders of democracy, is compromised.

Contributed by Charlie Worthington

Ed Miliband: Our Knight in Shining Adenoids

When Ed Miliband stepped into the shoes of leader of the Labour party, like a new-born baby, he came out kicking, screaming and trying to make an impression on the world. He didn’t. His case was not helped by the fact that he was solely elected above his far more charismatic, and in many eyes more favourable brother, David, due to the alternative voting system; otherwise ‘Red Ed’ would have been on the first train back to 62 West Wallaby street.

It is hard for any politician to make it out of such a quagmire of scandal and hatred into a successful career, the equivalent to going on a pleasant yachting holiday off the coast of Somalia and then being invited onto the pirates’ boat for a cup of tea and a picnic. Unluckily for Ed, we have become a world of vain materialists, obsessed with image, of which he has none. Furthermore his party was bankrolled by the malevolent and mysterious force that is the Trade Unions, suspected by many to have a far larger part in politics than is let on. Expectations were that he would make an inevitable and imminent flop into a think tank. However, something happened, that was unexpected to the Unions, the public, and the Press. Ed decided not to conform.

Modern politicians focus on their image and how they look in the public eye hence the arrival of the beautifully polished David Cameron and the ‘down with the kids’ Clegg. We see all too often these ‘figureheads’ of parties that have good hair and good teeth but no actual political intelligence. Miliband has a nostalgic whiff of Eau de Thatcher about his person, not for his policies but for his unsurpressable enthusiasm in improving the country. Miliband could be the first we see in a fantastical marching return of real politicians, ones that think for themselves and actually listen and care about the electorate of this country. Ed did what no Labour politician had the guts to do; he stood up to the Unions and severed their tentacles of puppetry from a party that was in danger of falling back into their grasp since the departure of Blair. He also took a stand on behalf of every single one of us against the ‘Big Six’ energy companies who charge families an average of £1,412 a year with prices forecasted to do nothing but rise further in the coming years. He has also turned around the disastrous results from the previous election headed up by one of the worst smiles in politics, Gordon Brown, who managed to lose 91 seats. Compared to the last election, predictions are now at a 56 seat Labour majority in the upcoming election in 2015.

All of these things have been done in little over three years of party leadership, more than most politicians could hope to do in a lifetime. His branding of ‘Red Ed’ by his critics does not connote communism as they imply, but it is an expression of his regality, and that a new visionary and political royalty has been born into the sparse world of Westminster.

Contributed by Daniel Gibbs

Europe’s Greatest Menace: Federalism, not Fascism

The utopian federalists in Brussels are already panicking at the thought of a surge in support for Eurosceptic political parties in this May’s European elections. Many on the European left see this as dangerous, attributing it to ignorance or lack of education and as typical, comparing it to the rise of fascism in Europe in the 1930s.

Certainly they would be right in the case of two: Hungary’s Jobbik and Greece’s Golden Dawn, parties that embrace violence, anti-Semitism and National Socialist symbolism. They however appear to be blissfully unaware of the cordon sanitaire that has been placed on these parties than none other than the Geert Wilders-led “European Alliance for Freedom”, a group of six Western European nationalist parties (including Le Pen’s National Front) that are widely expected to do exceedingly well in May. I bear little ideological affinity for these nationalists (given their economic protectionism), but this decision seems to contradict the media’s claim that such parties pose a clear threat to liberal democracy and I believe they should be applauded for distancing themselves from the fringe. A look at their platforms reflects this – none advocate the deportation of legal immigrants or even a ban on new immigration (furthermore, some even express unorthodox stances on issues like gay marriage). They all favor common sense limits on the number of immigrants allowed to enter their respective nations from the European Union, which may be a little restrictive for my own tastes, but evidently does not amount to any true disdain for democratic ideals.

I can understand the case that critics make against these nationalists – in spite of their modernisation, many of them do have a dark history. Their criticisms do not stop at the EAF however, they tend to extend further still, to parties that exhibit no resemblance whatsoever to Hitler and his ilk.

Take the Alternative for Germany for example. It’s one of the many political parties that have recently been slapped with the “far-right” label. Its platform is rather moderate, calling for increased levels of immigration. It does not even call for outright secession from the EU, making it no more controversial than David Cameron. Similarly, Finland’s centrist Finns Party has also backed guest worker programs, while Italy’s Five Star Movement combines populist, conservative and liberal policies in its platform. In our own nation, Nigel Farage’s UK Independence Party continue to poll in second place, with many predicting they may even clinch first as we move closer and closer to election day. The libertarian-conservative UKIP recently backed granting asylum to refugees of the conflict in Syria and its proposed immigration policy is no different to what Australia has had for years. Farage has also refused to work with the EAF, a remarkably brave move given that it will almost certainly cost him his front bench position in the European Parliament and the future of his current parliamentary group, the EFD.

Regardless of alliances, the core legislative agenda of these parties in the European Parliament will be one of obstruction – a bloc of up to 100 MEPs that will attempt to impede the federalist agenda. After all, that is really the only thing they can do as Eurosceptic MEPs, given that only members of the European Commission can propose new legislation to reduce the scale and scope of the EU’s vast bureaucracy and halt the ongoing centralisation of power within EU institutions.

It was not the right that crippled Southern Europe and then forced Northern Europe to bail them out. It was not conservatives that destroyed hundreds of thousands of jobs through the introduction of stringent EU regulations. It was not even the fascists that told the French, Irish and Dutch people who voted against the European Constitution in popular referendums that they would have it forced upon them nonetheless. This was the work of the Brussels political class, blinded by their aspiration for a pan-European superpower; they sought to use any means necessary to achieve their horrifying dream, ignoring the destruction they caused in the process.

The upswing in support for these parties is not motivated by a Europe-wide move towards nativism, but a deep-seated desire among the peoples of Europe to set their nations free from the stranglehold of Brussels. No level of fearmongering from the left will eliminate this. There is little question that the European Union project has proved itself to be a total and utter failure over these past few years and this May’s results will reflect that.

Contributed by Jay Patel