A week after the disastrous result of the election, Theresa May seems to have found some breathing space.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Human beings are generally rule-following by nature and they conform to the social norms that they see around them. A democratic government would therefore normally make laws based on popular opinion – especially if this supports the governing party gaining re-election – which would be followed by the majority of people in the country because that is what their innate nature would tell them to do. However, in America, people’s ideological views can be seen by where they choose to live. Therefore a democratic government across the entirety of the country would be less beneficial than a system of state governments which make decisions for the local citizens. This results in more satisfaction and agreement amongst the local population as it would be aimed directly at their needs. Overall though, only social and limited financial policies can be dictated on a state by state basis with (for example) foreign and military policies requiring a national decision as it would affect the entire country and therefore some form of national government would be needed.
The positives of a democratic government can be seen in Denmark where good political and economic institutions have been put in place. It has a stable government, is democratic, peaceful, prosperous, and inclusive and has low levels of political corruption. However, it is not clear whether Danish political order could be implemented into different cultural contexts where technology is less advanced and people have been under the rule of a dictatorship all their lives. A prime example of this is when the US administration was under the impression that once they had removed Saddam Hussein as President of Iraq, conditions would automatically revert to a democracy with a free market economy and were surprised at the levels of looting and civil conflict that resulted. Therefore, although a democratic government would be ideal for most countries, it is a laborious process that must take place with technological improvements and many countries are not at the stage where this transformation can take place. The recent political unrest in Egypt is a prime example of this.
Location can also play an important part in whether democracies are necessary. In Europe, most countries are full democracies though there are a few flawed democracies, particularly some of the countries which were part of the former Soviet Union. However, when looking at East Asia, successful authoritarian modernization is commonplace with countries like South Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and China benefiting. However, the question must therefore be asked as to why similar systems are not successful in Africa and the Middle East. Overall, it is therefore evident that different locations are seemingly better suited to different forms of government.
In conclusion, democracy seems to be the best form of government only in areas where technology is advanced enough and also where there are high levels of entrepreneurship that will benefit a free-market economy and where a robust law-and-order regime is in place. However, in other locations authoritarian governments are more suited because it is a system where the economy can develop more effectively when it is regulated, such as China.
Contributed by Gregory Lobo
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
In 2010, Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff published a study of growth in times of debt, with controversial results. They concluded that if the debt-to-GDP ratio in an economy exceeded 90%, economic growth would fall significantly with implications for the GDP and public finances. National debt would reach unsustainable levels, and governments would become more likely to default on their bond repayments. In the UK, economists, politicians and the rest of the population watched as their government “hung” in the balance of a coalition – believing that austerity was the only viable option.
Austerity appeared to be a quick-fire solution to the problem: make cuts now, pay off the debt sooner and reach sustainable growth faster. This relied on the correctness of the theory that high levels of sovereign debt damage economic growth, also allegedly supported by the Ricardian equivalence. The Ricardian equivalence argues that when the public sector is downsized, it stimulates the private sector. This would appear to make sense, seeing that a smaller state would allow private enterprise to flourish and the portion of the labour force cut from the public sector would find jobs in the private sector. The increase in private sector employment would increase the productivity of the economy as a whole and promote growth.
It appears to have worked. George Osborne, the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, made the case for his vindication over the economic downturn of the last three years (including a double-dip recession) with figures indicating a growth rebound – a recovery long awaited. Austerity, after three grisly years, had finally delivered.
The inflation rate has stabilised at 2%, exactly in line with the Bank of England’s target. It has provided the UK’s economy with a gradual increase in employment figures; the unemployment rate, in the three months up to October dipped to levels unheard of since early 2009 – an encouraging 7.4%. Having reached the New Year, companies are head-over-heels in confidence and are rushing to hire fresh blood. Credit is more easily available and house prices have begun to rise.
GDP is still 0.4% below the pre-crisis peak, but its growth has been steady and consistent since the first quarter of 2013 – a definite improvement on the economy’s near-stagnation in 2012. The sharp devaluation of the pound before the crisis helped the Bank of England to neutralise upcoming inflationary pressures over the course of the recession. This worked in harmony with the austerity measures, allowing the Chancellor of the Exchequer to eliminate a larger volume of Britain’s debt in a shorter time period. Austerity appears to have jumped through all of the hoops the economy has thrown at it, albeit slightly later than expected. Surely the country could simply stop moaning about it and look forward to the recovery?
The truth of the issue is that they can’t. Closer inspection of the figures presents an alternative story to the one that the Chancellor has produced. Current proportionate spending is low. The general public has received, on average, a 0.9% increase in salary; the inflation rate is marked at 2%. Salary growth has not matched the pace of inflation and this has the equivalent effect of a lower inflation rate without an increase in salary. This directly affects the cost of living by driving it up, and thus consumers will find it more difficult financially to keep up. A greater proportion will have to make cutbacks, and this could have a domino effect on all the industries supplying to the general public. Even among those with a source of income, a large number are driving up the UK saving ratio to above 7% (the average was 4% between 2000 and 2008) for what could only be seen as a precaution against further economic insecurity. As a result of the increase in the cost of living, retail sales have grown by less than 1% per annum since the recession began; some of Britain’s biggest retailers experienced disappointing figures during the course of the Christmas season. The 2011 VAT increase dealt irreparable damage, destroying consumer confidence at the time and the possibility of economic growth. But there is general consensus that the worst steps taken by the coalition government over the past three years were the deep cuts in public infrastructure projects.
The cuts in the public sector expenditure led, as expected, to unemployment in the public sector. However, the expected pick-up in employment on the private sector did not occur. The private sector was instead hit with the knock-on effect from the unemployment, the main craters in it arising from private contractors not receiving government contracts. This led to the contractors having to also cut back and laying off a portion of their workforce. Workers are a resource, so using basic economic theory we can deduce that the overall increase in unemployment of that resource reduced the economy’s productive efficiency, and this had a negative impact on the GDP. The GDP is an indicator of economic performance, explaining the ensuing slump in economic growth. General public purchasing power was reduced, and as a result the food, clothing, electrical, holiday and many more industries were affected by the reduced consumption of their goods. As all industries began to slump, the general public became aggravated and entered a state of social unrest, a key factor that was unaccounted for in the government’s vision of the UK’s growth trajectory. In 2011, social unrest reached its tipping point and, coupled with the anger at the injustice of Mark Duggan’s death, saw people take to England’s streets to demonstrate their anger at the government in the England riots of 2011. The austerity policy is exacerbating the very problem it is trying to solve.
The government shield away from the one thing that could have turned the economy around much quicker – Keynesian macroeconomic management policy. Baron John Maynard Keynes declared in 1937 “the boom, not the slump, is the right time for austerity at the treasury” (Collected Writings). This policy traditionally proposes that the role of the government and central bank is to smooth out fluctuations in GDP growth. During a period of economic boom, contractionary policies should be used to reduce excessive growth in aggregate demand (e.g. increased tax rates, government spending programmes and cutbacks). During a recession period, expansionary policies should be implemented (e.g. lower tax to increase aggregate demand, lower interest rates to motivate borrowing). Government expenditure should also be increased to create jobs directly through increased public employment and indirectly through the multiplier effect. By following Keynes’ expansionary policies and plugging money into the economy, the coalition government could have created a sustainable economic cycle with steady growth that would have reduced our deficit at a greater rate than that of austerity. The invalidation of the Ricardian equivalence in this case shows that it is simply unsupported by data, and thus has falsely led the coalition government into taking much longer than necessary to turn around our economy, at the great expense of the taxpayer.
The correct policy is evidently Keynes’ macroeconomic management policy. Data provided by independent analysts indicates that the UK’s GDP would be around 0.2% lower than the pre-crisis GDP if it had proceeded to stimulate growth rather than hinder it. Professor John Muellbauer of Oxford University predicted “the failure to invest in infrastructure while borrowing costs were at historic lows will haunt the recovery”. How hard will our failings to act when we could have, hit us in the future? The outcome from austerity will be realised within the next two to three years, but for now we can only speculate. We can only look back in hindsight searching for answers to the future.
Contributed by Abayen Ahilan
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
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
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
‘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