Would Nationalisation put UK Rail back on Track?

The turn of the year has seen David Cameron pledge to secure the “triple lock” system for pensioners, French company Total confirm British fracking plans and, most noticeably for public transport users, a rail fare rise of 2.8% on average, causing some annual tickets to now rise over £5000 a year. Many campaigners are arguing that fares are rising three times higher than incomes; another sign of Cameron’s ‘cost of living crisis’. A highly possible solution to this, supported by over fifty MPs, is a renationalisation of the UK’s railways.

First privatised under John Major’s Government between 1994 and 1997, customer rail services are divided into regional franchises run by private companies. These companies, of which there were 25 initially, bid for seven or eight year contracts for the franchises across the country. Twenty years after privatisation, train fares have not risen uniformly; season tickets rising around the same as inflation (55-80%), whilst single tickets have risen by 208%. Although privatisation was hoped to create competition, therefore meaning reduced travel prices for customers, the number of different train operating companies has dramatically reduced, with major firms such as National Express and Stagecoach running multiple franchises.

When rail services were first privatised, it was intended that the private firms would fund investment in rail infrastructure through private borrowing. Although it was agreed rail would always have to involve some form of government subsidy, the balance between this and private funding has been a constant conflict from the offset; both pro and anti-privatisers agree that the current balance is incorrect and inefficient. Government spending received by British Rail almost trebled from 1994 to 2005, from £1,627m to £4,593m, despite a lack of real investment in improving infrastructure within this period. Privatisation has therefore led to the cost of the railway doubling in real terms for the tax payer, causing the supposed benefit of this privatisation system ‘costing the tax payer less’ to become completely unfounded.

Moreover, nearly half of the so called ‘privately owned’ companies running UK train services are actually owned by French, German or other European national operators. As Christian Wolmar wrote in November 2011, “The British railway system is slowly being renationalised, but not by our own government. Rather, it is being taken over by foreign state-owned railways that now have an interest in almost half the franchises”. The German government’s Deutsche Bahn, the largest state owner of British railway, has announced they’re “skimming profit from the entire Deutsche Bahn” to invest “in the rail network here in Germany”. If the rail system is profitable, then surely the UK should nationalise their rail network keeping that investment within Britain to make the much needed improvements to it, instead of Germans benefiting from the overpriced rail fares faced by Britons every day. This argument can similarly be used for the renationalisation of other sectors, with over 65% of people supporting the nationalisation of Royal Mail and the energy sector in a recent survey by YouGov.

East Coast main line is the most damming case against the privatisation of train services. The train line was nationalised in November 2009 after its two private owners left the job, leaving publicly owned Directly Operated Railways to keep it running. A recent report by the Office of Rail Regulation reveals, however, that the line is the most efficiently run franchise when considering its reliance on taxpayer funding. Moreover, it is reliant on just 1% government payments, with the other franchises ranging from 3 to 36%. Despite this clear sign that rail nationalisation prospers over privatisation, the Transport Secretary Patrick McLoughlin announced plans in 2013 to resell East Coast to the private sector, claiming “Now it is the right time that we invite bidders to put forward proposals for investing in and improving services” even though East Coast has a record of improving customer satisfaction to a higher level than ever before.

The opposition have grasped at this serious blunder by the government; Labour’s shadow Transport Secretary Marie Eagle said “Considering the East Coast service makes one of the highest annual payments to the Government, receives the least subsidy and is the only route on which all profits are reinvested in services, it makes no sense for the Government to prioritise this privatisation”. Rail nationalisation does not look likely to be implemented anytime soon however, with none of the main three political parties committing to renationalisation as of yet; another sign of consensus politics between the UK’s three main parties creating little real choice for the electorate.

The Green Party, however, are supporting the renationalisation of the rail network with their MP Caroline Lucas launching a Private Member’s Bill last year with the backing of over 50 Labour and Plaid Cymru MP’s. According to the Greens, nationalisation would not only allow an ‘increase in investment, re-open lines and reduce fares’ but would create a more ‘integrated green transport system’. With the ever rising price of rail fares, the spiralling government subsidies and prospering publicly owned rail networks, in the UK and abroad, it’s hard to argue against a renationalisation of rail in the UK.

Contributed by George Waddell

Is our Police Service in need of reform?

The British judicial system is widely regarded as one of the world’s best – a variant of it is used by countries such as the US, Canada, and Australia and it has set a precedent for many other legal systems around the world. But can we really stake a claim to justice when the enforcer of our laws, the police service, has been proven on numerous occasions to be inherently flawed, and even corrupt?

In the last couple of years, three high-profile policing scandals have come to a head: the Hillsborough disaster of 1989, the investigation into the murder of Stephen Lawrence in 1993, and the killing of Mark Duggan in 2011. The police have, by a number of different means, tried to take justice into their own hands, and the question has to be asked that if the police are accountable to the same laws as everyone else, why has more not been done to try and solve this problem, or at least assess the extent of it? Altering statements, testifying falsely in court and generally acting outside of the law are not acceptable – it isn’t the police’s job to decide who is innocent and who is guilty.

The probe into the Hillsborough disaster found that the South Yorkshire Police were at fault for the deaths, through negligence and inefficiency. While these can be attributed to human error, the more damning finding was that police accounts and witness statements were doctored by the police, in order to shift the blame away from them, and onto the victims of their negligence – a verdict that stood for over 20 years. The Stephen Lawrence Inquiry of 1999 found that the Metropolitan Police was “institutionally racist”, and in 2006 some were found to have perverted the course of justice by withholding evidence. It took 19 years for Lawrence’s murderers to be held to account for their actions. Mark Duggan was shot dead by the police in 2011 despite having disposed of his firearm, provoking riots on a national level – but the killing was found to be lawful. Duggan was a known gangster, and the official verdict did not find the police at fault – but the reputation of the Met Police had been further damaged in the eyes of the public, and given the track record of judicial failings when the police are involved, who is to say that this decision too won’t be overturned in 20 years time?

One of the key issues is that despite the alleged equality of testimony in our country, the police are invariably trusted to testify honestly, and the Duggan case is just one example of how police testimony is viewed as almost indisputable evidence – the unconditional trust in the police is clearly misplaced. It could be argued that as officers of the law, this is deserved – but given the examples of occasions on which they have been found, in retrospect, to have perverted the course of justice (such as with the recent ‘Plebgate’ scandal), is it not time for this privilege to be revoked? And given that it appears to take decades of campaigning to ensure justice, how do we know that these goings-on aren’t even more commonplace than we think? Police testimony is regularly used in the execution of justice, often as outright evidence – if even a tiny minority of police officers cannot be trusted to act honestly and follow legal procedure, then surely their position as law enforcers is compromised?

Such a widespread investigation into police conduct would not be entirely without precedent – in 1997, a Royal Commission found that in the police forces of New South Wales, Australia, “corruption and misconduct” were “systemic and entrenched”. Crucially, this verdict left no alternative to a thorough reform of the system, restoring the integrity and reputation of the police in that state, and acting to enhance the administration of justice. An investigation into the police forces of Great Britain, with more powers than the largely ineffectual IPCC, and a commitment to widespread reform should it be found that the police services are fundamentally ineffective, would go a long way to bringing down the wall that has been built up between the police and the general public over the last 30 years. There is little doubt that the vast majority of police officers are honest, and committed to assisting the course of justice, but the failure to address the minority that are damaging our judiciary has left its reputation in tatters, seemingly beyond repair. Until a detailed investigation into the police force as a whole has been carried out, we cannot truly claim to have a just and fair legal system – and it is vital that we address this issue before the international reputation of our judiciary, as well as the trust in it of our people, is compromised any further. It would be a complex and expensive process, but the potential positive consequences easily outweigh any negatives that may be incurred.

Contributed by Charlie Worthington

Does the UK spend too much on welfare benefits?

The modern welfare state and benefits have their roots almost 500 years ago in the form of Poor Laws. These laws were made to keep the homeless population off the streets and make them work in places like factories. However even after these measures had been put in place, in the late 1800’s it was proven that up to a third of the population still lived below the poverty line. This prompted the Beverage Report (1942) which found out that society suffered from the five Giant Evils. The report said that these were squalor, ignorance, want, idleness and disease and suggested benefits as a method to combat and eradicate these evils from society.

Benefits, as we know them today, were introduced after the First World War to support poorer people as a short term measure until they found work. These benefits, especially unemployment benefits, were not designed as a long term investment and each person receiving them would be reviewed after 6 months. Another reason for the introduction of benefits in the UK was to stop mass unrest because of the recent war. Benefits also helped families cope with separation and deaths due to the conflict.

Benefits allowed people to be lifted out of absolute poverty and gave them a fighting chance to compete with the privileged classes. By and large this has worked as desired but as any system it had its failures. There is a strong perception that the benefit system is widely abused, and that it promotes laziness which manifests into a way of life among generations who depend on benefits and never ever venture out to work. This is grossly unfair for the majority of families who work hard to achieve greater living standards.

The UK Government has to re-look at the current level of spending not by choice but more so due to difficult economic conditions. Many measures have been introduced by the coalition government to pull back run away expenses for example; people are enforced with an under occupancy penalty which has been labelled as “Bedroom Tax” (If there are more bedrooms than occupants in a council house, the residents are fined) by the opposition, along with tougher checks on people claiming unemployment, disability benefits.

The UK government hopes that by radical changes, benefit system will reflect the demands of modern age but also not dilute the core principles of welfare state (i.e. to support under privileged sections of the society). Benefits is an emotive subject to the wider public and is exploited by all major political forces in the country as a political instrument for capturing larger percentage of votes. In my view benefit system is much more that pure politics; it’s fundamentally an economic issue than political (i.e. as a nation can we afford such unsustainable expense?). Any expense that has no control or oversight will be abused no matter how noble the underlining desire is!
It is predicted that the UK will spend 16% of the budget on welfare in 2015; this is almost 120 billion pounds spent annually on welfare.

Out of the total almost half (46.32%) of the welfare expense is spent on Pension and rest constitute what we loosely categorise a “Benefits” in the public domain. If we analyse further under “Benefits” we see a big chunk of expense is Jobseekers allowance. Our focus should be towards modernising Pension funding and increase employment through encouraging Private enterprise. Political parties in government are tackling the smaller and less funded benefits such as Carer’s Allowances, Financial Assistance Schemes and Incapacity Benefit because they are easiest to cut and can demonstrate to the wider public that the government is tough on benefit frauds, thereby creating a positive political image rather than deal with difficult and more complex policy issues of Pension restructuring and employment generation.

In conclusion if we manage to tackle the complex subject of Pension funding and create an environment of higher employment then I don’t think we need to really push for changes to benefits that are genuinely supporting weaker sections of the society. With that assessment I agree that we cannot afford the current level of benefit expense and that we are spending too much on benefits, but the solution should be based on sound economic footing and not a political show to gain more votes.

contributed by Chinmay Joglekar

Why the proposals for an MP pay rise may not be that ‘ridiculous’.

Last week it was revealed that the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) plans to hike MP’s pay to £74,000 from 2015- an 11% rise on their current £66,396 pay check. At a time when the Public sector has seen a pay rise cap of 1% until 2015 and the cost of living crisis continues to hit working families the hardest, is this an unfair pay rise or simply bad timing?

There was a huge backlash against the pay rise when first announced, Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls declaring it ‘ridiculous’ and ‘out of touch’. Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband were equally quick to announce they will refuse the pay hike, whilst David Cameron has stated Westminster pay should not increase while others are facing constraints. Outside the Commons others have also been criticising the wage increase, PCS union general secretary Mark Serwotka saying IPSA has not “grasped what is happening in the real world” whilst Matthew Sinclair, Chief Executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, stated ‘The rise must be rejected’. Yet in a recent survey by The Telegraph, only one in ten MPs declined the pay rise, hinting that yet again MPs will not put their money where their mouth is. Moreover, an IPSA survey taken by MPs revealed their average suggested salary was £86,250, with the Conservatives saying it should be even higher at £96,740 on average.

IPSA meanwhile are standing by their proposals despite the criticism, claiming the plans will not actually cost the tax payer ‘a penny more’. Along with the one off pay rise, the governmental body suggested a reform of MPs pensions including an end to the final salary pension scheme and increasing their contributions to the Parliamentary pension fund from 40 to 46 per cent. A cut in expenses and the scrapping of so called ‘golden goodbyes’- where MPs are paid another year’s salary after the election whether they are re-elected or not- have also been proposed. All this will mean that money won’t be taken from other sectors to support the pay rise, and the tax payer won’t be hurt.

Jack Straw, former Labour cabinet minister, has also shown his support for the proposed wage rise. He commented that whilst there was never a good time for a wage increase, it was important to attract people from ‘modest backgrounds’ to politics. In actual fact the current MP wage of £66,396 would put you in the top two per cent of earners in the UK; making this a pretty dubious assumption by the minister that these people would not want to enter politics. Straw’s comments have only alluded to the proposals being ‘out of touch’. Despite this, his claims do bring up the question whether the professionals at the top of their fields- doctors, lawyers, journalists- will continue to want to enter politics if the pay is so much lower than their current occupations.

When compared to the salaries of other Western countries’ MPs, or their equivalents, the wage increase does not appear too ridiculous. Although Spanish MPs are paid a mere £28,969 a year, US and Italian equivalents both benefit from a generous salary of well over £100,000. So put into perspective, the proposed pay rise is not that ludicrous.

This indecision over MPs wages will continue to resurface itself until definite regulation is put in place however. Many are calling for their salary to become indexed to the national average wage, therefore meaning MPs cannot claim their pay is too low or too high as all changes will reflect that of the average worker. Meanwhile, the public cannot complain when MPs wages are increased as theirs will have as well.

In the current economic climate the planned pay hike does seem a tad ‘ridiculous’, but if we want to keep the best people in politics- whilst also keeping the public happy- then IPSA needs to be allowed to carry out its job. Since being set up in 2009 the advisory body has saved the taxpayer £35 million with a further proposed saving of £7.5 million in 2015. With this proven track record it’s hard to argue that the proposals are not in the interest of the public.

Contributed by George Waddell

Sources
‘How to drain the poison from the MPs’ pay debate’- Jonn Elledge, New Statesman http://www.newstatesman.com/politics/2013/12/how-drain-poison-mps-pay-debate
‘Telegraph database: find out if your MP is planning to take IPSA’s 11 per cent pay hike’- Miranda Prynne, The Telegraph
http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/politics/david-cameron/10512987/Telegraph-database-find-out-if-your-MP-is-planning-to-take-Ipsas-11-per-cent-pay-hike.html

On balance capitalism is a better system for mankind than communism

Please note that the viewpoints put forward in this article to not necessarily represent my own and are for argument purposes only.

In this article I will address the benefits which capitalism brings to a society and why it is a better system upon which to base our societies on.
Capitalism is the voluntary exchange between one another. This occurs because both individuals believe that trade will benefit both parties. Trying to stop voluntary exchange from occurig taxes massive amounts of resources on enforcing the policy, as the war on drugs demonstrates.

1. The Social-Calculation Problem
In a Communist society there is no way to measure the value of goods and services. There is no way to figure out which goods and services should be produced, and which resources should be saved for capital use or future demand. Figuring out how to “calculate” the value of goods and services is also an impossible task, since all goods and services are intertwine with one another due to the many factors that affect prices and there’s also a lot of dispersed information which is nearly impossible to quantify and difficult for any one individual to make predictions on. For example: How many shovels should society produce? Well one would need to know who needs it, why they need it, the resources available to produce the shovels, and what the alternative use these resources can be used instead of making shovels. Knowing how each person values a good or service is also impossible since one cannot know an individual’s subjective preference.
Capitalism solves the problem through a monetary system, with a profit system. What this means is that producers produce more supply if prices increase and the opportunity for profit exists, while consumers consume more if prices decrease. This allows equilibrium to occur in which a quantity is produced at a specific price. Therefore, there are fewer problems with shortages and surpluses in a capitalist society, and people can obtain the good and services they desire based on their own budget. This system of supply equally demand allows welfare between producers and consumers to be maximized. This profit based-system produces information that can never be figured in a communist society. Producers know how much to produce because they are incentivizes to produce items that will create the most profit. If opportunities exist for a good or service to be produces that people demand, then entrepreneurs will take these opportunities in order to obtain a profit. Furthermore, these entrepreneurs can take advantage of specialized knowledge that planners do not know. Since anybody can be an entrepreneur, everyone can take advantage of their own specialized forms of knowledge.
Consumers will also cut down on consumption if the quantity decreases and increase consumption if the quantity increases. Therefore capitalism makes resource-management more efficient then a communist society ever could.

2. Empirical Evidence of the success of capitalism
Empirical evidence has shown that societies that have implemented capitalism have successful grown their economies. A few economic miracles have occurred: The economic miracle of Hong Kong and Singapore are two great examples. These nations were originally poor nation but have become industrialized due to implementing capitalism policies. If one looks at a graph comparing highly capitalistic nation, those nations that rank the best under the “economic freedom index” have higher gross domestic production then nations with low economic freedom and property rights.
Evidence of the social-calculation problem occurring also has empirical evidence. Massive famines and starvation has occurred in North Korea, China, and the Soviet Union. People waited in long lines just to get bread.While China remains more capitalistic, it still has communist elements to it. One result that has occurred is that China contains ghost cities which nobody inhabits.
Gross domestic production is a net benefit to society because it causes a lot of positive results that benefit society. People that live in wealthier nations tend to be happier. Life expectancy increase as gdp increases, since people have access to healthcare and nutrition. Higher gdp also correlates with a decrease in murders.
Some might believe that true communism has not been implemented so since there is no empirical evidence for its failure, one can speculate on why communism will be better. However, it is more likely that communism will not work out as predicted and lead to more suffering. This is because any proof that it will be successful, will be based on speculation. Speculation is likely to be wrong since it is difficult to predict how human motives will interact with one another in a complex world and there are more ways to be right then to be wrong. In order for this system to work, all assumptions and predictions would have to hold true, which is unlikely to be the case. Now we know that the system of capitalism has improved the lives of billion. Therefore, a priori we should accept capitalism as the better alternative to communism. The system we live in today is the result past suffering and experimentation throughout thousands of years of social engineering.

3. The Tragedy of the commons
The tragedy of the commons is the problem in which that if no individual owns property, there is no incentive to maintain the property. Thus property publically owned degrades quicker. A common example is a bunch of herders that commonly own a field. Each herder has an interest to put a cow on the land, however the quality of the land is damaged as a result and overgrazing occurs. If property is privately owned, then each individual has an incentive to maintain the land, because if they do not then it will lose its value while there is no incentive to maintain public land. As John Stossel notes, privately-held parks are better kept and maintained the public parks because the owner has a greater incentive to keep the area nice.

4. Innovation incentive and productive efficiency
Capitalism incentivizes innovation since those that innovate obtain the profit from their efforts, research and development, and investment they put into R&D. It also creates a system in which producers minimize cost of input while maximizing output through use of prices. Engineers and business administrators are taught how to reduce costs of good and service and how to maximize output. Such calculations would be impossible under communism due to lack of a price system, and since there is no profit system there is no reason to do these calculations in the first place.

Contributed by Shane Dunne

Should there be compulsory national service for 18-26 year olds in the UK?

A debate over whether 18-26 year olds should be forced to do national service will be held in Parliament in February. The bill is being sponsored by Kettering’s Conservative MP Philip Hollobone who is convinced that some form of service for youngsters, be it charitable work, care for the elderly, work linked to the NHS or participation in the armed forces, would help instil a greater sense of ‘self-respect, personal reliance, discipline and behaviour’ into society. Those with severe mental or physical disabilities will be exempt from partaking in national service. However, surely this promotes the question of what is actually considered a severe mental or physical disability? Would depression count as a severe mental illness considering that over 1 in 100 people at one stage have suffered from it?

As a student at Tiffin, I believe that it would be very detrimental to society if this bill were to be passed. The vast majority of my peers have a good idea of what career path they want to pursue. Therefore, inflicting a year of national service onto them would mean their careers would be delayed by a year. In addition to this, who would be responsible for paying for national service? Would it be the young people who are being forced to undertake it or would it be the government? It would be very unfair on a young person to pay for their own national service considering that many of them would be totally against the idea of doing it. Moreover, they would be put into debt and therefore a much more difficult financial position. In addition to this Philip Hollobone believes that the skills picked up by young people partaking in national service will increase their prospects of getting a job. However, if every young person were to be forced to undertake national service, then surely it would then become worthless on a CV because everyone would have that skill set.

Although some people may say that the values of self-respect, personal reliance and self-discipline will be promoted in society through national service, are these not the exact values that are supposed to be taught at home and enhanced through the British education system? There is only a very small minority of society that lack these values and who commit crime, however the introduction of national service would mean the entire population in the UK aged 18-26 would be forced to suffer for the mistakes of only a few. If a bill similar to this were to be proposed, would it not be more sensible to force the unemployed into national service so that they could benefit society rather than waste government money through benefits? Furthermore, forcing the unemployed into work would support the British economy because it would decrease unemployment.

In conclusion, I think that it is evident that compulsory national service for young people aged 18-26 would be a bad idea because it would hinder the careers of many young people who would have to undertake national service, as opposed to being able to pursue the careers that they have studied for. Others may say that it would promote the values of self-respect, personal reliance and self-discipline but nearly all of young people in the UK already have learnt these values by this age. This call for national service is largely in response to the growing unemployment problem in the young population and the increase in disaffected youth who seem to view benefit entitlement as a rite. However, in fact out of the 2.7 million unemployed, these people are in the minority. Many within this age range have gone to university and are desperately seeking employment, despite already having the skills they would gain by undertaking national service. I believe that the government needs to focus on addressing the lack of graduate jobs available, rather than try to improve employment statistics by introducing unnecessary and unwanted national service.

Contributed by Gregory Lobo

Should Scotland Become an Independent Country?

There are many reasons why Scotland should not become an independent country, and in this essay, I will explore these various views.

I agree with the fact that Scotland shouldn’t become an independent county. This is because Scotland would face financial problems. Firstly, the UK is the most successful economic and political union of modern times, and therefore Scotland is a recipient of the benefits that come with this status. Because of the UK’s economic success, change needs to be slow and careful. Secondly, giving Scotland control over how they tax and control welfare would impact all parts of the UK, as the amount of income the UK receives would change and therefore more cuts would be needed, though the costs of Scotland would be reduced. As a result of the cuts, reform for the UK parliament and undermine unity in parliament. Thirdly, on its own, Scotland would face bigger financial risks, as the security of the UK being behind Scotland would go away, and with that will go investor’s confidence, as it would mean Scotland turning to the Up for help in the event of a financial crisis would be next to nothing. Because of this, Scotland would probably rely on foreign bank and be in competition with its largest and closest neighbors. Ireland is evidence for this and what can happen in a financial crisis, where they fought against being part of the UK and now, as they face a crisis, are unable to ask for help from the country they turned away, and many Irishmen are moving to the UK for that exact reason.

A person that would disagree with me would be Alex Salmond. He believes that Scotland should become an independent country, because firstly, the UK fails to recognize Scotland’s unique needs, and that Scotland interests will always be second to the UK. Secondly, the UK is run by parties that Scotland rejected (namely the Conservatives) and therefore, what the UK decides for Scotland might not be favoured by the Scottish population. Thirdly, he believes that Scotland needs to take responsibility for the taxes it imposes as a result of its own spending, and therefore taxes could potentially be lower in Scotland as it doesn’t have to cover some of England’s spending. Lastly, there is no reason why Scotland cannot control its own destiny, become equal to England, and take its full place in the world. Scotland and England would remain firm friends via the EU, which Scotland would remain in. Also, Scotland would have the North Sea oil to turn to if financial circumstances turned on them.

However, this view is flawed because Scotland’s rulers chose their destiny via the Stuarts (James VI) and merging with England. Also, would Scotland be able to keep up all their promises before they go bankrupt. The oil is a finite resource so will not provide Scotland with the necessary funds. As they will be a small nation with no certain future they will have no bargaining power in the UN. Also, think of the benefits the United Kingdom has for Scotland: the BBC; the NHS; easier to visit; the businesses; the UK’s strong military; the allies; tuition fees? Scotland will be too busy setting up on its own to be able to afford to maintain these things and it’ll have to invest all of its remaining money on getting resources for its residents to survive on, setting up a new currency. It will be Ireland all over again, when Scots move to Britain to gain back these “luxuries”.

In conclusion, Scotland should not become independent, because of the risks to its economics and its residents.

Contributed by Jeffrey Chong

Should There Be A Greater Emphasis At School On The Sciences And Maths, Rather Than The Arts And Languages?

I do not think that there should be a greater emphasis on sciences and maths in schools than arts and languages because arts and languages provide excellent life skills. A prime example of this is art itself as it allows you to express your thoughts and has few boundaries so you can do what you want in whatever way you want. It can help young people express their emotions and allow them to think more deeply and creatively and all of this is backed up by evidence from the Education Fund of America. Arts subjects also give students an important break from the usual hard working, factual and intense lessons like the sciences and maths and gives them a chance to relax and be creative.

Languages are also extremely important in the world. They open many more university and college options as colleges and universities rightfully believe that everyone who goes to their institutions should know the grammar of a modern foreign language and the culture of another country. It also gives a wider range of job opportunities as many jobs these days involve travelling to other countries and communicating with people there. Companies and organisations prefer this as it means business is easier, quicker and often more successful as there are no difficulties.

Understanding another language allows students to go and explore other places and invest their minds in other cultures due to the large amount of cultural teaching in language classes as well as grammar. They can see beyond their own ways in their own country and it opens them out to different people in a fun and interesting way. This contributes to the fun and enjoyable parts of learning language and is probably one of the best aspects. It also gives you confidence when travelling to another country on holiday or business as you know that you can sort out any problems and get around easily.

The skills involved in languages are also very important in all aspects of life. They include listening, reading, writing, and speaking which all allow us to communicate in different ways and ways which are suited to us. Statistics from the CIA World Fact Book also show over 80% of the world’s population do not speak English and therefore people should not think that everyone speaks English which would often be people’s response to this question.

Research from The Association of Foreign Language Teachers in New York showed that primary school children who were exposed to languages highly outperformed students who did not learn a language. It also showed that countries where the arts and languages are compulsory to a high level have the best science and maths results, such as The Netherlands and Hungary.

Many students much prefer the arts especially as they are an enjoyable break from the usual daily routine of lessons. For some other students it is extremely important as if they do not enjoy maths and science or do not do well in them in exams, it is essential that they have something else which they can work on and try to excel in and be recognised for.

Overall I think it is vital for children and students to have a good education over a broad range of subjects but especially in the arts and languages as I have outlined in this essay.

Contributed by Tom Dunne

Was Margaret Thatcher beneficial for this country?

‘Ding Dong! The Witch is Dead’, the catchy tune sung by Judy Garland and the Munchkins in The Wizard of Oz, is currently on the rise in the charts, in the wake of the death of Baroness Thatcher, the ‘Iron Lady’ who was Britain’s first and so far only female Prime Minister, as well as the longest serving one in recent times. A Facebook group was set up years ago dedicated to promoting this song the day the ex-PM dies, in response to the extreme criticism that Thatcher received during her time as PM in the 1980’s, a time of economic turbulence and extremism. There could be no denying that those were troubled years, and perhaps the pinnacle of the decline in post-war Britain. So what did Thatcher do that was so divisive? Why is she still a controversial figure, to this day and to her grave?

The general consensus amongst the electorate was that in 1979, Britain was a failed state, the ‘sick man’ in post-war Europe: 3-day weeks, continuous and unregulated strikes, constant power cuts, and the culture of hands-out-exploiting-welfare-state. The ‘winter of discontent’ (1978-1979), in which there were a series of strikes co-ordinated by public sector Trade Unions was deeply embarrassing for the country – uncollected rubbish was left in the street for weeks, loss of power happened regularly and even human bodies were left in the streets as the Undertakers went on strike. With all this in mind, were the policies and actions of Thatcher really that radical and wrong? When she came into power in 1979, her promise was to clear away all the troubles of socialism and bring back the ‘great’ in Great Britain.

She immediately set out to reduce the influence of the state and bolster the economy by promoting free-market economics, famously declaring that ‘it is businesses, not government, who make money’. She believed that there was a spoon-feeding culture in the UK and that it was important for individuals to get up and work, citing ‘pennies don’t fall from Heaven – they have to be earned, here on Earth’. Tax and spending cuts were soon implemented, alongside the introduction of several Parliamentary Bills, designed to curb Trade Union militancy; state industries such as transport and power were sold and privatised; and most importantly council homes were sold to homeowners, enabling many to climb onto the property ladder for the first time. It is a wonder why the opposition opposed these reforms – many say that Labour hated the fact Thatcher was removing the power of government and giving working people more power over their lives – ironic isn’t it?

However clever this move was, politically and economically, there were drawbacks. The increasing wealth of the City of London and the enginered decline of traditional industries such as mining lead to mass unemployment, and financial insolvency in those sectors. This is what fundamentally lead to people disliking Thatcher, even to this day, as many felt she ruined the country and ruined peoples lives. However, with the benefit of hindsight, we can see that it was ultimately a successful move. The country was directed away from the old manufacturing industries, now subject of intense international competition, but managed to re-establish itself as a leading global economy with a booming financial sector located in the City of London. To this day, despite the criticisms of Thatcher, we have yet to return to the mining and shipping country we once were.

Thatcher deeply distrusted the Trade Unions. No one is denying that Trade Unions are good – they are an essential part of our democracy and key to ensuring that the voice of working people are heard. However, the militancy and power that Trade Unions wielded in the 70’s and 80’s was beyond monstrous – it was purely undemocratic. The year long strike in 1984 of the National Union of Mineworkers, called for by their leader Arthur Scargill, despite him failing to call for a ballot, showed clearly how the Unions thought they could impose their views undemocratically on the government. Having seen her party defeated over power cuts during Edward Heath’s premiership, Thatcher was determined not to make the same mistake, and had built up considerable reserves of coal in the years leading up to the strike. This meant the strike was defeated, and it lead to dramatic declines in the coal industry and influence of the Trade Unions.

Thatcher was also successful abroad. The victory over the Falkland Islands in 1982, the early identification of Mikhail Gorbachev as a future Soviet Leader and thus her involvement in bringing the Cold War to an end all helped put Britain back on the world map, giving it a renewed sense of its role as a global influence.

But, as with all politicians, she was not without her faults. Her infamous ‘Poll Tax’ in her third term of office led to widespread protests and riots in the streets, and is still unanimously seen as a mistake; her desire to see off the reunification of Germany, as she feared European federalism, was also unpopular and her stance on Europe would ultimately lead to her downfall. The culture of consumerism and unregulated capitalism that she ushered in can also be seen as a few of the many reasons which have lead to today’s recession and economic failings.

Therefore, in conclusion we must look at her overriding achievement: despite remaining a controversial and divisive figure today, she did make this country great again. Her ideology and leadership oversaw the transformation of a declining and failed state to the global power that we are today. Several of her key ideas have now become accepted in modern politics, similar to the welfare reforms of the 1940’s; and even when New Labour won a landslide victory in 1997, they built on the legacy that Thatcher had left behind, and she is still having that impact on us today. She was an undefeated PM in electoral terms, but she was also a national and cultural figurehead, which is why she is arguably seen as the greatest peacetime Prime Minister of all time. Many will forget Major, Brown and Cameron, but Margaret Thatcher will never be forgotten.

The easy way to answer the title question is to compare Britain now to when the Iron Lady took office in 1979, and to decide in which year you would like to live. And that is now for you to decide.

Contributed by Benjamin Vicary

How Powerful is the Prime Minister?

Without doubt the Prime Minister is the most important figure in the United Kingdom political system. Prime Ministers are powerful because they are at the head of three crucial relationships. Firstly, the cabinet, including individual Ministers and their departments. Secondly, their own party of which they are head of and through it, Parliament. Lastly the public and the electorate, with help from the media. However, Prime Ministers are not all the same, and differing leadership styles and motivational skills can have a big impact on how powerful they can be.

Firstly, Prime Ministers are powerful as they possess the power of patronage. This is the ability to sack, hire, promote or demote all ministers in government including Secretaries of States and other members of the cabinet. The Prime Minister can ensure ministers who are supportive, share in his ideological views or agree with his policies are promoted to powerful positions, whilst rivals or critics can be limited to junior positions or kept out of government completely. As ministers in government know, the Prime Minister can influence their political careers, and this ensures they remain loyal and supportive as they understand they ‘serve’ the Prime Minister. For example, Gordon Brown carried out the largest cabinet reshuffle in 100 years, sacking 11 members of the cabinet and hiring/promoting 9 MPs to cement his authority in government. However, certain cabinet members can possess a high level of power if they have a high public profile or have one of the ‘plum’ jobs. It is in the best interests of the Prime Minister to conciliate key cabinet colleagues as resignations can be extremely damaging to the Prime Minister publicly. For example, Margaret Thatcher’s reputation as Prime Minister was damaged by the resignations of Heseltine, Lawson and Howe. Furthermore, the current Prime Minister David Cameron is unable to wield the power of patronage to its full extent as the coalition means he is unable to sack Liberal Democrat ministers.

Secondly, the Prime Minister is powerful as he is the leader of the largest party in the House of Commons. This sets him apart from all the other ministers and gives him/her an ‘aura’ of authority across the wider governmental system and in cabinet. Party members recognise that the party’s fortunes and successes are closely linked to the Prime Ministers personal standing which discourages public criticism and party splits. Nevertheless, party leadership is a responsibility as well as a position of power. As the party leader, the party looks to the Prime Minister to provide leadership that will ensure unity and stability, as well as delivering electoral success. Party loyalty can evaporate rapidly if the Prime Minister is viewed as unpopular or as an electoral liability. For example John Major was badly hamstrung by Eurosceptic backbenchers during his tenure as Prime Minister between 1990 and 1997. Another example is that more than 80 Conservative MPs defied Cameron’s orders and backed a referendum on Britain’s membership in the European Union in 2011.

The Prime Minister can be described as powerful due to the increased access to the media in recent years. Due to the rising flow of information being fed out to the public on a daily basis through television, radio and the internet, this gives the Prime Minister a greater ability to influence. The Prime Minister is deemed powerful as the media tends to focus most on the political leaders, giving the Prime Minister the ability to appear ‘over the heads’ of their parties and governments. Prime Ministers have the power to control the flow of information to the public through the increased use of special advisors. For example, journalist Alistair Campbell was Tony Blair’s main advisor and ‘spin doctor’. This leads to emphasis on ‘spin’ whereby seemingly ‘bad news’ can be released at opportunistic times and the releasing of information close to media deadlines to prevent them checking the reliability of it. However, the use of ‘spin’ can be counter-productive as it undermines trust in the government and the credibility of the Prime Minister. Furthermore, due to commercial pressures, the media is under pressure to make politics ‘sexy’, leading to a tendency to ‘hype’ news stories, such as turning a criticism into a scathing attack. The media can also have an impact on the Prime Minister himself; for example, the constant media scrutiny of Gordon Brown’s personality and image, “unable to smile”, during the 2010 general election was a huge constrain on his electoral prospects.

In addition, the most significant factor when assessing how powerful the Prime Minister is, is the electorate. This is arguably the most important factor as it underpins all other factors. When the Prime Minister and the government are popular such as in 1997, the Prime Minister has a personal mandate to act and make key decisions. However, when government popularity dips and electoral chances are in doubt, the Prime Minister’s authority in cabinet and the party are not assured. For example, Tony Blair’s authority was weakened by Labour’s reduced majority in 2005 and increased support for the Conservative party in the polls.

Also, Prime Ministers can be viewed as powerful due to the build-up of bodies and advisors who support him/her. Tony Blair extended the cabinet office hugely and created many new departments such as the Delivery Unit and the Women’s Unit. Furthermore, Prime Ministers now receive far more institutional support from special advisors. However this is still incomparable to the institutional support received by the United States President. Prime Ministers still lack a department of their own, whereas US Presidents are not limited in terms of who they can pick to fill their cabinet as the executive and legislature are separate.

Another factor is that Prime Ministers can be seen as weak due to events that are out of their control. They are now held responsible for mistakes wherever they occur such as war casualties and economic problems. For example, Tony Blair’s public reputation was scarred by the suicide of David Kelly in 2003: this intensified media speculation about the basis on which the decision to go to war in Iraq was made and the trustworthiness of the Prime Minister. Nevertheless, Margaret Thatcher’s decision to go to war in the Falkland’s in 1982 brought her huge popularity after a victory and was a big impact on the comfortable success in the following general election.

It is fair to say that the Prime Minister’s powers are now largely informal as oppose to formal. This includes persuading and debating, and building and maintaining relationships as opposing to dictating. Although many factors play an important part in the power of a Prime Minister, for example how big his/her majority is in the House of Commons and the power of patronage. It is ultimately down to the leadership style and personality of a Prime Minister which truly determines if they are powerful or not.

Anonymous Contributer

Should the UK have Prime Ministerial elections like the Presidential ones held in the USA?

As it currently stands, constituencies are merely able to vote for their local Member of Parliament rather being able to directly choose which leader of a party they wish to see become Prime Minister. Within our current electorate system, although one is able to have a greater choice and ability to effect local happenings, many would prefer to be able to directly choose the Prime Minister themselves. This is largely due to a rise in opinion that the Prime Minister, with a majority in the House of Commons, is no longer being held accountable and, in fact, it is easy for them to come up with the laws which they know will be passed without problems. This is unpopular for some who believe this move into almost an ‘elective dictatorship’ has caused the government to become less democratic. Therefore, if the Prime Minister was directly elected, it would be more democratic on the grounds that they are effectively the main decision maker. Yet, this proposal would not be an entirely popular one. Many people may think that local matters will be neglected, with the main focus on the figure-head leaders. Additionally, many people may see it as not being a good representative of the whole picture because a strong party, with a good cabinet, makes an even better Prime Minister.

Having direct elections for the Prime Minister will not solve the problem of having ‘safe’ seats or areas because there will always be areas which are crucial since they could swing either way. Another advantage seen by a change in the electorate system would be the simplification of national politics for the future and developing generations. It would provide a much easier system to understand and interpret, two candidates, one question: Who do you want to become Prime Minister? Therefore, hopefully, this change in system would increase young people to become more politically involved and many people, who are frozen out and unable to fully understand the current complex system, would actually be able to put their own views forward and shape how the country is governed. Furthermore, this should cause an increase in voters, largely, because it should increase the feeling that each vote counts rather than if you favour a party which is opposing a constituency where another party holds a safe seat. An increase in the number of people voting is hugely beneficial because it creates a much greater representation of what the whole nation thinks and wants to happen.

Overall, perhaps a change in vote for Prime Minister will be too brash for many conservative thinkers and is unlikely to be passed or voted in. However, the clear problem at hand, that the Prime Minister having too much power, can be tackled in alternative ways. For instance, many view a codified UK constitution being able to limit the Prime Minister’s power effectively and make sure the House of Commons is the body which is actually passing the laws and notions put forward by the PM rather than just nodding its head at everything the Prime Minister wants due to the majority their party holds.

Contributed by Joshua Graham

Boris Johnson: Prospective Prime Minister or Bumbling Buffoon?

Last week, the citizens of Birmingham experienced the sort of frenzy one would usually expect during a victory parade of an England sporting team, or a well publicised walkabout of a global musical sensation such as One Direction or PSY! Yet, the centre of attention and the ‘target’ for the Midlands’ paparazzi, was in fact a politician: a politician who has a very distinct charisma.

As Mayor of London, Boris Johnson is accountable to over a tenth of the UK population, with responsibility for the smooth running of arguably the world’s most vibrant, dynamic and influential city. Back when the Mayoralty of London was created in 2000, few politicians could have foreseen the danger that this post would create.

Boris Johnson is not an MP. He is not part of the cabinet, or indeed any other government body. He does not need to tow the party line when it comes to legislation, since he is not part of it. In fact, the Mayor is completely independent from any other political programme apart from his duty to the people of London, and his allegiance to the Conservative party. This means he can say and do whatever he wants, regardless of the position of the coalition government. A thorn in David Cameron’s side no doubt – but even he would not dare get rid of the flamboyant and extremely popular Boris.

The Mayor has been very vague on the matter, as is his way. On the one hand, he keeps proclaiming his undivided loyalty to Cameron, saying that he is the man who is needed to turn this country around and put it on the track to recovery. Yet, if this is the case, why is the Mayor constantly lobbying for a new airport in the Thames estuary, rather than the governments’ proposal to expand Heathrow?; or why did he make a point of outshining the Prime Minister during the Olympics this summer, boosting his popularity and diminishing Cameron’s popularity? And back to last May: surely David Cameron could not have missed the irony of losing many council seats throughout the country to Labour, whilst Boris Johnson surged to victory in the Mayoral election in London.

It is obvious that Boris is the most popular politician in the country at the moment, as the polls suggest. It is also obvious that he is clever and witty; likeable and pragmatic. Now would be a very good time to challenge for the leadership of the Tory party: his rather right-winged political stance would appease the backbenchers of the government, who probably fear the direction in which David Cameron is taking them, in order to meet the party’s Coalition obligations, as well as Cameron’s attempt to appeal to the masses by declaring himself ‘centre’. Furthermore, as the leader of the party, Boris would have more chance of getting the Tories into a second term of government because he is a politician who has shown he is not interested in appeasing everyone but who sticks to his promises and his ideology; the sort of ‘no-nonsense’ public figure we need at the moment and who would be voted in, compared with all the career politicians such as Nick Clegg, David Cameron and Ed Miliband.

But the other question is would he deliver? There is no question that, if he wanted to, he could become Prime Minister. But he has shown to us in the past that he is not the most decisive character. He has many ideas, but does not appear to be responsible enough to carry out official and solemn occasions with the necessary decorum. Boris at a state funeral? Boris meeting the US President to discuss economic troubles? Boris speaking at the United Nations about world development and helping developing countries? It just all seems a little too far-fetched.

It has been said on many occasions that Boris Johnson just is not serious enough to run this country. But ask yourself this: who is capable of running a country, with no experience otherwise? Every Prime Minister we have ever had has always been voted in as a popular person, but a person who has no experience in running a country. Some succeed, some fail. Some are more serious than others. But every Prime Minister “learns the ropes” as they go along. As long as the policies are popular, and the professional assistance is there to help the government do their job properly, then anyone can be a Prime Minister.

My summary of Boris Johnson is this: He is a man who has shown capability in the organising and smoothly running of a major world event. He is a strong, influential character who follows ideology and not, public opinion. He is no doubt a leader, a distinct representative of the capital with whom everyone can feel slightly happier. He elevates himself in terms of charisma – a jester above ‘dull’ politics. He is exactly the sort of person who, with a little training in running a vast enterprise such as the UK, and a little time to help prove himself, could easily bring us out of the current economic depression and bring out the ‘Great’ in Great Britain.

So why not?

Contributed by Benjamin Vicary

If David Cameron resigned tomorrow, who should replace him as Prime Minister?

If David Cameron resigned tomorrow who should replace him as Prime Minister

This paper explores the strengths and weaknesses of three potential successors; George Osborne, William Hague and Boris Johnson. Although it is a sensitive and often a controversial question, given the tense circumstances under the coalition, the heir to David Cameron’s throne is much more relevant and pressing than usual.

Contributed by Ben Carter

Charles de Gaulle et l’Europe

Charles de Gaulle et l’Europe

This essay is not based on a certain hypothesis but instead researches a topic and attempts to put a complex issue into more simple language.  The essay is broken down into four parts: background on Charles de Gaulle, background on Europe, details of the Fouchet Plan, and the impact of the Fouchet Plan.  The first section elaborates on de Gaulle’s political history (pre-1958) and how he developed certain views.  The second then moves back in time to the French novelist Victor Hugo, who was the first person to coin the term “États-Unis d’Europe” (United States of Europe).  Furthermore, the essay briefly outlines the formation of the European Economic Community here.  The main body of the essay examines the return of de Gaulle to French politics in 1958 and explains why he believed that Europe should have an intergovernmental union, rather than the supranational union that was present in the form of the EEC.  Note there is a paragraph which summarises the Fouchet Plan and explains why de Gaulle believed that change was necessary for Europe.  The concluding paragraphs look more closely at the European response to de Gaulle’s proposals, explaining why the Fouchet Plan was ultimately rejected, as well as de Gaulle’s European impact after the plan was rejected.  The information presented in the essay is not as detailed as if written it in English, but nonetheless, it does make a very complicated issue much more understandable (for those that can read French).

Contributed by Harry Eaton

Reviewing the Arab Spring

On 17th December 2010, Mohammed Bouazizi, a street vendor in Tunisia self immolated, sent a tsunami of protest and revolution across the Arab world, which does not seem likely to stop anytime soon. Since the initial act by Bouazizi, the world has seen unrest in Egypt, Libya, Tunisia, Yemen, Syria, Bahrain, Iraq, Israeli border areas, Jordan, Kuwait, Morocco, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, Mauritania, Sudan, the United Arab Emirates, the Palestinian Territories and the Western Sahara, all of which have varied in their magnitude and their level of coverage, effectiveness and resilience. The themes of these protests include: income disparity, dictator rule, oppression of minorities, abuse of human rights and restriction of freedom of speech. In many of these countries, civilians are not allowed to live according to their will and are forbidden from practising their basic human rights. Therefore, after these protests, what has been left behind?

Tunisia was the first to revolt on 18th December, and by 14th January, it managed to drive out its President, Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, forcing him to dissolve his government and to exile himself. On 23rd October 2011, Tunisians finally got their chance to vote, with the formerly-banned Islamic party, Ennahda, winning with 41% of the total vote.

Egypt soon followed, with the first protests beginning on 25th January, which are still ongoing. The protests have been violent, with at least 846 dead and 6,000 injured. Protesters have had to handle attacks from pro-government forces on camels, gun fire from the military and army vehicles. The protesters have managed to remove President Mubarak and Prime Ministers Nazif and Shafik, but their problems are not yet solved. In light of the situation, a Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was set up, which very soon became unpopular and was seen as extending the old regime’s influence (Mubarak had strong ties with the army). Moreover, the new constitution (written effectively under the watch of the Supreme Council) supra constitutional amendments have been suggested, which make it impossible to see the Army’s budget and spending. SCAF have also called for 80 members of the constitutional assembly (the body responsible for writing the new constitution) should be non-MPs. SCAF has also been criticised following confrontations in October between the armed forces and a group of protesters, mostly comprised of Coptic Christians (Egyptian Christians). Since SCAF took charge, 1,600 people have undergone military trials and the decades of old state of emergency that has hung over Egypt has still not been fully removed. There has also been the introduction of a law criminalising protests and strikes, anybody organising or calling for protests will be sentenced to jail and/or be fined up to 500,000 Egyptian Pounds (£52,000). Parliamentary elections have happened and results from that have largely been in favour of the Islamic parties. Roughly two thirds of the vote went to two parties (both Islamic in their ideology), one was the Democratic Alliance for Egypt (almost entirely made up of the Freedom and Justice Party, which may as well be pseudonym for the Muslim Brotherhood) and the other was the Islamist Bloc. No Presidential election has taken place yet.

Libya used to be the 4th longest running dictatorship in the world (3rd Kim Il-sugn, 2nd Chiang Kai-shek and 1st Fidel Castro), headed by Colonel Gaddafi. Having been in power for the past 42 years, Gaddafi had a hold over Lybia, but also being the irrational thinker he was widely attributed for, he did not have strong organisation throughout the country. This meant that when revolution hit, it did not take long for defectors to come out in favour of the people. The revolution started on the 15th of February in Libya’s second largest city (Benghazi) and by the 21st, it was liberated from Gaddafi’s rule and the National Transitional Council (NTC) was formed. Soon after, there was a military crackdown on the city through the use of African mercenaries that were paid for by the state. The civilian protesters were able to overcome this through the use of the fact that 15 in every 100 people in Libya own firearms and when military divisions, or even whole barracks defected or were taken over by the NTC, they would bring arms with them. Throughout what effectively became a civil war, there were to and froes, as the NTC would drive Gaddafi’s back and then there would be a counter-offensive by troops loyal to Gaddafi. At one point, the revolution nearly ended when Gaddafi’s forces managed to reach Benghazi on 19th March. Eventually, the UN passed a resolution which imposed a no-fly zone over Libyan air space on 17th March, with what became a widely regarded as successful humanitarian intervention and the Gaddafi regime was toppled on 23rd August 2011 and Gaddafi was found on 20th October 2011. This was, despite the fact that he had earlier claimed that he could not step down, like a normal head of state because he had resigned from all formal state positions in 1977 and assume non-executive leadership roles, which made no difference. When he was finally found, ironically, he was found taking refuge with his bodyguards in a drain, despite earlier threatening ‘to kill the rats who opposed him’.

Following Gaddafi’s downfall, the world has seen civil war, discontent within the public and a lack of leadership. The NTC is made up of former Gaddafi loyalists, Islamists, secularists and others from a wide spectrum of political backgrounds with no common political identity. And while the NTC seems unable to take a hold of the country and bring it together under a common national identity, the county is left with the law of the jungle and tribal politics takes hold once more. Meanwhile, being black in Libya has become a quasi crime, with it being widely reported that civilians are lynching black people due to the fact that they either associate them with Gaddafi’s African mercenaries, or Gaddafi’s want for an united Africa under his leadership. Nevertheless, apparently incidents of road rage have reduced and people are driving in a more civil manner.

Despite the democratic changes that have taken place recently, we should take this change with a grain of salt. In the past, we have seen many seemingly peaceful democratic and western backed springs/ changes that have turned sour: the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, Mugabe in Zimbabwe and even Mubarak in Egypt (it should be noted that secretary of state Hilary Clinton described Mubarak as a personal friend in 2009). The west and major regional powers have to get involved in supporting the democratic process and the civilian populations, not just the new leaders. This is a chance for proper, legitimate, representative governments to come out of these countries that have seen tumultuous change. However, the course they are on now bodes well only for the power hungry and prospective dictators. Powers which can help should aim to try to in pushing for an open democracy, aiding the new interim councils through advice in regaining power and legitimacy, as well as helping set up institutions necessary for a properly functioning democracies, such as a free independent media, a dismantling of the police state and involving all parties and groups in the transition. These steps will be difficult and there are many challenges which these incipient new orders will have to face, including that of promoting neo-liberal thinking in a society that has only known dictator rule from a theocrat supposedly appointed by god. Undoubtedly, many of these new rulers will try to reflect their old leaders, thinking that is how you are supposed to act as a leader. There is the added challenge of the sectarian divisions within these countries, tribal divisions and voting based on commonalities of religion, tribe and creed. Needless to say, secularism is not something that is learnt or taught overnight. Unfortunately, it’s a long arduous process of cultural change.

There is always a chance and one shouldn’t turn away from the situation completely. These countries cannot be left to their own devices because it is obvious that many of these countries are left in such a state that they will either slip back into the dictatorship, headed by their transitional council, or a strongman will arrive, promising to solve their problems and a dictator will be found in that way. But we cannot repeat our Iraq or Afghanistan strategy of picking a western backed chosen one to run the country and then regretting the decision. We have to allow a natural process of rebuilding with the west’s guidance and we should not be afraid to speak out when we see something wrong in the new regime. The best thing for the west and other powers to do would be to offer their help and support in the form of democracy promoters, advisers sent to these incipient democracies which would be there to help guide the new order and power structures, offering advice on steps which the governments should take in order to help promote democracy. However, from a cynical point of view, the new leaders can chose to ignore the advice and may have mal intent. If that is the case, democracy may be finished.

Contributed by Kayani Mohammad Kayani