economy, europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

The economy is the UK’s only care in global matters

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As the judgment day that is June 23rd fast approaches, the nature of Britain’s foreign policy and its international relations have never before been placed under greater scrutiny. The European Union referendum has meant intense discussion of UK parliamentary sovereignty, global spending, and the nation’s relationships with neighbouring states. But our nation’s ties with states located in Europe aren’t the only ones coming into question.

Past weeks have given ear to the dissonance regarding international affairs across the whole world – most specifically, in the USA. More often known as TTIP, the planned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership between America and the EU is set to boost the global economy, but at a considerable price. Myriad MPs and activists have voiced concern in recent weeks, claiming that the new Atlantic agreement would put public service operations at risk of privatisation, reduce the UK’s financial regulatory powers, and that a robust, European, ethical framework would begin to break down.

What is driving the steady support for the introduction of TTIP is what has always driven the capitalist West – money. It is easy to see that TTIP is attractive from the outset, providing grand chances for the further stimulation of the US and EU economies. Experts have estimated that the agreement would mean a global financial boost of around $100m. The prospects of a stronger world economy are plausible, but cannot come at the expense of a great loss in parliamentary sovereignty to multinationals, and a loss of focus upon the global common good that the EU at least tries to instill. Numerous EU directives would become quickly overridden, and big businesses are sure to have a draconian power influence not only over parliament, but across all of society.

The truth is unravelling all too quickly. The rise in Euroscepticism, meaning an obvious rethink of Britain’s relationships with its neighbours, is showing that our global affairs are not based on camaraderie at all. Many of us do not identify as Europeans, and do not share the sense of community that helps to construct many states in the Eurozone. Innumerable pieces of legislation are born in and baptised by the EU, and it is clear that, for some, its collective direction has shaped our nation’s decision-making process a little too much. Political advantage and dialogue is not what Britain’s politicians seek from the likes of Merkel and Juncker anymore.

During the campaign leading up to 1973 – when Britain gained EU membership – one of the biggest cases in favour of the transition was the almost instantaneous economic advantage. Still, the economy lies at the heart of Britain’s colony in Europe. Neither peace nor teamwork are foremost here. Britain can’t have joined in order to work for the common good like many of those who signed up to the post-war European Community. The stubbornness of the British government over recent months, and from a large proportion of the British people, has made this blatantly obvious. Britain has gained all it wants to from the EU. Trading relationships for several decades have moved the nation back into the spotlight, and the nation’s politicians have maintained and increased the nature’s stature.

Perhaps the European Union has now politically exhausted the United Kingdom. Whilst it would secure increased sovereignty, if the UK votes to leave in just over three weeks’ time, it needs to ensure a back-up plan for its economy. Capitalist America is prime stomping ground, of course. Right-wingers are tired of the EU’s legislative infringement, a burden to a nation that seems to look primarily at its economic standpoint instead.

If Britain chooses to stay, a world of benefits is still available from all directions. But the tasks of interstate teamwork and the concessions that it commands are proving to be too much for vast numbers of national Eurosceptics. Britain and many of its people are willing to forego ethical standards set by the EU, and risk the security of vital public services – anything to ensure that the nation’s economic ballast does not take a hit.

The UK has always been a wily character when it comes to global affairs. Its position in the European Union was, from the start, one that was painstakingly scrutinised and adapted. Looking at the nation’s relationships abroad with a predominantly narrow, economic focus can explain not only the EU and TTIP quandaries, but also the controversial UK-led Saudi arms trade, and Britain’s closed door approach to the refugee crisis.

A devastating side effect of this highly capitalist, 100% economy focus is that any form of moral high ground is likely to disappear from Britain’s view of the political landscape. Neighbouring states and global organisations continue to allow Britain to meticulously negotiate its way into economic partnerships of all kind. In turn, buying into more agreements like TTIP and the EU, seeking only economic benefit, will only degrade the UK’s moral high ground when working on international matters.

Those who favour a Brexit on June 23rd choose to advocate for an odd but somewhat entertaining juxtaposition. The EU is said to be the world’s freest global marketplace. But whilst claiming that the economic case is the most important thing at stake during the EU debate, those backing Vote Leave are essentially supporting a major economic climb-down for the UK. TTIP may stimulate the economy to an extent, but it will take time to build up the success that the UK has had with Europe. Why leave what has been one of the UK’s most sturdy support bases for many decades?  For sure, a Brexit would mean returning to many controversial operations, create social, political and economic animosity all over the European continent, and significantly reduce Britain’s moral standards in both trade and manufacture.

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economy, society, UK Politics

Working poor, poverty and strikes: work doesn’t pay like the Tories say

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Beside controversial cuts, if there is one major economic policy that Chancellor George Osborne can be credited with, it is his view that work should be rewarding, lifting British people out of poverty. Aiming to reduce deprivation and boost the skills of individuals, the Chancellor and myriad other Conservatives have placed the creation of a successful workforce as key to economic rejuvenation. But many people are being failed, the Tories forgetting their core principles of supporting those who work the hardest. Economic hardship is still commonplace, but the livelihoods of ordinary workers are being pushed into the background.

It would be unfair to suggest that the government hasn’t attempted to tackle the issues of widespread unemployment on a national scale. Since David Cameron’s 2010 General Election campaign, by playing to the failings of Brown’s Labour government the Tories have been hot on the heels of those who receive endless cash hand-outs, favouring work as a way out of poverty. Overall, unemployment has fallen, and despite warnings of an inevitable slowdown in coming months, the national economy has markedly improved from its position after the 2008 recession.

I’m sure that even the most politically unengaged would recall one of British politics’ most defining slogans of the past six years – the ‘long-term economic plan.’ The repetition of this phrase in every context imaginable leaves your ears ringing. It is clear that the Chancellor and his Conservative comrades believe in a strong national economy for international success. Britain is currently the ninth largest economy in the whole of Europe, and has unquestionably been one of the fastest growing in the West. And the more macroeconomic focus of this Tory party economic plan does make sense, to an extent. A stable and powerful national economy has been proven to cement a nation’s politics and safeguard its citizens.

But the Tories’ focus on the national economy as a whole seems to be creating more harm than good for some. Their strategy has a profound flaw. Many continue to wade in financial strife. Just because big business receives a boost does not mean that a similar effect will be felt by ordinary people in a ‘trickle-down’ effect. Despite reports of national economic success, the ordinary British citizen is being left out of the picture. For some, incomes may be growing, and livelihoods becoming more sustainable. But national economic success is still not translating into success for all.

There is considerable evidence to suggest that Britain’s steady economic rejuvenation is not completely aiding the average voter. The rate of working poor households in Britain is still high, with a 70% increase in London alone over the past 10 years. Further to this, the Guardian last week reported that 1 in 3 people across the nation have experienced poverty in recent years. Still, budget cuts are damaging public sector job opportunities, and departments progressing slowly, gravely underfunded. Past months have even seen several appeals from police forces for volunteers in order to keep our streets safe. Strikes have continued to spring up all over the nation, most notably with those of the junior doctors, but also with those of public transport workers and teachers. The lack of affordable housing across the country, with a focus only on mortgages instead of rentable social housing, further accentuates the problems that many Britons face.

Perhaps on blueprints and when praised in IMF reports, the economic welfare of Britain is increasing quickly and the country is becoming sustainable. This is, of course, a fundamentally good thing. The largest problem is, however, that the government is failing to make sure that every citizen feels long-lasting effects.

Public discontentment with the Tories’ economic plan is growing and Osborne’s strategies must be questioned. Maybe Iain Duncan Smith was right, who vehemently condemned the government approach, forgetting ordinary Brits and instead looking too much to maximising the national economy. This week, polls have shown that public approval of the Conservative party’s economic plan has plummeted over the past twelve months. This was only emphasised further by large-scale public and parliamentary rejection of George Osborne’s budget just over a month ago. If British people are failing to make enough money in acceptable jobs, if public services are making pleas for volunteers, if poverty is a slippery slope to an inescapable pit, and if measly wage rates are provoking strikes, the message is clear. Work does not pay, and the Tories are failing.

The Conservative party is thus failing to aid the ordinary people whom it once claimed to wholeheartedly support. The stalwarts of our population, whom were at the heart of its campaign six years ago, are fast becoming insignificant. The Tory economic strategy is now less about the lives of ordinary people – a problem that has already seen the party sacrifice cabinet ministers such as Iain Duncan Smith, and will continue to diminish its backbench support, crucial with a small majority. As the core principles of the Conservative party are coming into question, the Tories’ lack of attention towards those who truly work the hardest is showing.

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economy, europe, World Politics

Greece will recover if the EU is realistic and pragmatic

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Violent protests are choking up streets, almost a quarter of the nation is unemployed, and taxes are at unprecedentedly high rates. A country which has faced economic despair for over eight years, Greece is still in need of a realistic, long-term, and sustainable plan in order to rejuvenate its ailing economy. It is time that the European Union accepted that it should not bring Greece to adhere to unrealistic conditions. Instead, it is in the Union’s interests to – albeit begrudgingly – hand the Greek people the support they need.

Greece’s economy has barely improved even with international ‘aid.’ There must be something going wrong with the present strategy. Greece’s level of debt is eating away at the livelihoods of ordinary people, sitting at around 180% of output. It is estimated that as much as 75% citizens’ earnings is being taken in tax revenues, alongside other harsh, EU-imposed austerity measures. Greece’s unemployment is now more than double that of the EU average. Austerity is not working, and the lives of citizens are not improving. It may, in the long-run, make a stronger economy, looking at only the macroeconomic situation. But for the average Greek, their personal income and quality of life will not markedly improve. Surely this should be the primary goal of the EU.

The national economy can only recover through investment and employment, in the same way that many of the world’s greatest economies started. The Greek parliament last week was backed into approving €5.4bn of controversial budget cuts. For a nation that voted “oxi” – or “no” – to extensive budget rescaling last year, this is surprising. But is it that surprising, really? The international press and our leaders will keep telling us that Greece has no other option. But really, this is just highlighting the crippling monopoly of the European Union.

I’m all for the EU, but only with increased reform and a revised mindset. The time for a review of the supposed Greek recovery has come, but quarrels between the European Central Bank, Eurozone, and International Monetary Fund are continuing to stall any workable progress. The EU has the chance to serve one of it’s most important functions – to uphold its true values of solidarity, and support its member states in calamities. With particular reluctance on the part of the German government, it seems that Greece and its people will not come back to life unless a form of compromise is made. A harsh economic dictatorship, being orchestrated by Merkel, is neither an intelligent nor viable strategy for a Greek recovery. Amidst worrying social unrest, the Greek government simply has no choice but to succumb to the rigid conditions of troika.

This week, Christine Lagarde of the IMF has reported a significant contraction in the Greek economy, and that the aspirations of the EU for Greece are largely unrealistic. In order to progress to the next stage of bailout, the Greek government must repay €3.5bn by July. But achieving any form of budget surplus means harsh austerity measures, passed as parliament grit their teeth. The only option which could lead to true stability and progress is if member states contribute to a stronger Greek economy, by aiding with debt relief, and if the EU’s expectations are reduced.

Selfishness from the European Union will only lead to increased calamity, and not only financially. Supporting Greece is in member states’ interests. Economic solidarity is necessary in multiple respects, and is what the European Union ought to stand for. Without true moderation and aid, Greece will decline in many ways. Less investment and support will mean more unrest. Greece’s streets have already become increasingly violent, and there is no sign of the chorus of opposition waning. Does Merkel really want to lug around a socially unstable state? Furthermore, chances of tyranny and political instability would only grow.

Unless the EU comes truly to the rescue, the current left-wing government will grow more unpopular, and the anti-establishment, austerity-defending hard right will succeed. Without a good cash flow from Brussels, economic growth will never be high again for at least the next decade. The lives of Greek citizens will become arduous and their prospects weak. There is no denying that it will be a long, hard slog. Choosing to ignore Greece to the furthest extent possible is not a realistic or pragmatic option. Money must be used as an incentive for growth and rejuvenation, not just something to tick a box. The focus must turn to getting people back into work, and reducing austerity to a more acceptable level. Only with a long-term plan which combines components of balance and sustainability will Greece be able to emerge re-energised.

No decision will be favourable, and no form of austerity desirable. But at the moment, the EU is in its own bubble. Christine Lagarde and the IMF have the power to pop it. The creation of a realistic plan should be fast sought. There is no quick fix, but if the government can present a collective strategy with visible, incremental improvements, Greece will be slowly reincarnated. The European Union needs a reality check. It is undermining its own principles of solidarity, support and prosperity. When realistic and pragmatic strategy emerges, with a plan spanning the next decade, the Greek people may finally be a little more content. By ignoring the seriousness of the Greek crisis, the EU is only creating more problems for itself. Unrest will plague communities, government popularity will further decline, the hard-right may well conquer another European region, and individuals will become tired. Surely the nurturing of economic demise is not something the EU wants to credit itself with.

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economy, Industry, UK Politics

Ideologies and EU unease prevented an easy win over British steel

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Entering the third week of the British steel saga, the Conservative government’s indecisiveness over Brexit has begun to show. Tory Business Secretary Sajid Javid, alongside a wealth of government colleagues, has pledged to support a strong British steel sector. But shouldn’t the government have grasped the European Union’s hand in order to nurse the steelworks’ wounds?

The answer is most definitely ‘yes.’ Needless to say, evident Tory laxity over British steel  has proven that many see no merit whatsoever in saving Tata Steel. With strong international imports from the East, along with a heavy government focus on business and services instead, steel girders are no longer used as the supports upon which the UK stands.

The British government’s handling of the ailing Tata Steel has been arguably problematic. Hearing the piercing blare of alarm bells set off by a slowing of European exports, the international community has been moved to protect substantial parts of their economies.

Britain seems to have taken a different route, however. Several days ago, Conservative Party-affiliated MEPs were amongst a select few within the European Parliament to block the imposition of import tariffs on set products entering Europe – especially those products delivered at a cheaper price than those of EU nations’ workforces. The Tories did have their chance to rival the emerging Chinese heavy industries monopoly, but interestingly enough chose not to.

Whilst I don’t doubt that those in government truly want to better the national economy, political tactics and ideology have prevailed just too much. Actions have certainly spoken louder than the words of the Conservatives over the past fortnight have. It is clear that a tactical statement of British EU resentment has markedly backfired. A vote which showed a standing up for hardworking people which the Conservatives insist on assisting, and a pledge to continue with the Tories’ British economic rejuvenation could well have scored the party points in the British steel sector. It seems that the responses of Sajid Javid to events currently battling with him are a cry out for a reformed European Union, or perhaps even a reiteration of the hefty Conservative Eurosceptic presence.

In addition, it is evident that the Conservatives have toed their traditionally laissez-faire line once again. Minimal state ownership has proven to be a key part of Cameron’s administration, as reflected by increasingly privatised housing, amenities and health services. This time, the Tories’ opinions on British manufacturing have similarly been presented loud and clear. But small-scale investment seems to have produced a measly gain this time. After the Business Secretary has adamantly refused to directly fund British steel, it seems that the government will now have to at least ‘co-invest’ in the industry.

Political advantage and European Union protest have sharply backstabbed the Tories. The current steel saga continues. The Conservatives should re-emerge relatively unscathed, somewhat covered over by Cameron’s tax revelations shifting the media’s focus. This time, however, the playing of party tactics has caused Javid problems, and the adoption of strict Conservative ideology has become an evident setback.

Today, Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund Christine Lagarde preached that the UK’s possible exit from the European Union could prove detrimental to the global economy. In relation to British steel, this must provoke a Conservative rethink. Economic solidarity and political compromise are the way forward. Sajid Javid’s team has fatally rejected a perfectly viable EU solution for progressing the repair of Britain’s manufacturing sector. The most unforgiveable part of his oversight is that it may well have been willful. Haunted by the possibilities of Brexit and the party’s strict ideological traditions, David Cameron’s government could have scored easily here with even the most hardcore of Conservatives.

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economy, UK Politics

The Tories are stripping communities of both economic and civic livelihoods

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It has been only a few weeks since Chancellor George Osborne proclaimed his controversial budget for this financial year. Continuing to run the nation with precarious state services and the dismissal of government responsibilities is having a considerably negative impact on our local communities. To top it all off, the implementation of such unjustifiable hits to the most impoverished is proving to be nothing short of painful to watch.

It goes without saying that the financial impact on local communities has become increasingly obvious over recent months. David Cameron’s ‘big society’ must be questioned. The Conservative government’s economy is failing many citizens, instead playing into the hands of business tycoons and their established treasure troves. The Institute for Fiscal Studies showed last year that nearly two thirds of impoverished children are part of working families. Furthermore, recent Labour party calculations showed that the Tory government is deliberately choosing to fund the rich and hurt the poor. The highly likely closure of Port Talbot through a lack of state support and vehement disregard for viable EU solutions will plunge an entire local economy into an abyss of unemployment and household disparity.

In years gone by, communities were united not only economically, but also by culture and vibrant civil societies. Osborne’s cuts aren’t only destructive towards local economies, but towards community soft power, too. Funding for councils and regional developments has been significantly scaled back in recent years and will continue to be cut under the Tories until the next general election. The amenities, initiatives and organisations which should unite and support citizens are ceasing to function adequately.

Our auras of interdependence and unity are rapidly vanishing. Scotland-wide, valuable music education initiatives for children are coming to a halt as councils are increasingly starved of funding and resources. Music, developing social and educational skills, and which unites pupils, educators, and organisations of all sorts will stop bringing people together in regions such as Dumfries and Galloway, Fife, and Perthshire. Further to this, the virtues of institutions like our public libraries will soon disappear as they face challenging times. The opportunities for children and adults alike to become lost in literature, nurturing their educational development may never be found again. In England, the lesser-spotted comprehensive is an endangered species, and may soon be extinct. As the state rids itself of responsibility, our prized educational facilities will soon operate in separate, closed off administrations. Our unique ethoses of community spirit, teamwork and co-operation are being struck down as our tight-knit townships are, quite literally, torn apart.

It seems that we in fact are not ‘all in it together’ like our leader proclaimed six years ago. The Tory long-term economic plan is not working for local government. The nation’s economy has, of course, had large-scale successes with increased growth and boosted employment. But respect for communities is still to come into view once again. What will fragment our communities next? Poorly maintained infrastructure? A disappearance of lush green spaces? Perhaps even our vital NHS, already split throughout Manchester due to low funds and patchy governance. Neighbourhoods, public services and their governance are no longer operations which involve collaboration and unity, as we are each forced back into our shells. The Conservatives’ cuts are causing stark divides within our societies which, until local communities are truly supported, will develop into even wider crevasses.

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economy, Industry, Politics

British manufacturing can only flourish again with state support

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If you were asked to name the most well-reputed British trademarks, which would you pinpoint? Rolls Royce, MINI or BAE Systems may indeed make it onto your shortlist. Needless to say, however, recent decades have shown a stark decline in the growth of British manufacture. News of the highly possible Port Talbot steelworks closure is no exception to this damaging trend – a trend which is puncturing the British economy which already floats towards increasingly murky waters.

Events of the past week seem to echo one previously tumultuous period of British politics. In the same way that Margaret Thatcher’s administration oversaw closures of nationwide mining organisations in the 1980s, Port Talbot’s steelworks and its communities are being stripped of job security and their vibrant local economies.

The manufacturing sector, which once largely boosted the UK economy with material, machinery and utility production, will soon be no more. British governments must take an active role in stimulating such important manufacturing nuclei nationwide. Without close cohesion, large opportunities for economic expansion will continue to be carelessly and deliberately overlooked.

But don’t let me for suggest that pre-existing British producers are letting the nation down. Output must simply be radically increased through stringent state support in the same way that European producers like Germany flourish with tight state-economy bargaining. Spectating whilst the Tories allow British steel to succumb to the new trials of globalisation is criminal, and not to mention mindless. To speak of steel as just one example, a wealthy market is on our doorstep. A versatile product, steel alone can be used in bridges, roads and infrastructural development – developments for which we continually ignore possibilities of British product use. Whilst the Tory government continues to push ahead with developments such as HS2, using British materials should surely be a given. Many UK organisations rely on materials production, and giving back to the economy is a necessity for revived national success.

As economic power shifts towards the eastern side of the globe, countries like China and Thailand continue to take up shares of the markets that Britain could easily make a more indelible mark upon. Studies have shown that political power comes with economic power. Rejuvenation of the economy into the manufacturing power which it once was is simply vital, whilst maintaining the already strong business and service sector. The creation of a more self-sustainable nation and the continuation of exporting goods may even prevent such damaging budget cuts to working people as well as boost GDP, raise life quality, push more into jobs and help local economies thrive.

Jeremy Corbyn’s visit to Port Talbot on Wednesday did bring hope. In front of scores of loyal workers workers, the Labour leader proclaimed that a large state-business co-operation would ensure future sustainability. The lacklustre ‘commitment’ of Sajid Javid, Scretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, exposes the unpragmatic nature of Tory politics. Our government is shamefully willing to watch the steel industry crumble like previous governments watched that of the coal mines only decades ago. Whilst full scale nationalisation may not be wholly necessary, let alone be an outcome favoured by the Prime Minister, a new attitude to the way our nation’s manufacturers operate must emerge. Where are the state incentives? Where is the collaboration and cohesion? And where are the 100% British developments which must be encouraged?

It is now time for the state to fully re-energise British industry – a feat not possible without wholehearted commitment and inspiration from our government, which in 2015 pledged to stand up for hardworking people. Whilst I don’t predominantly advocate for a revival in patriotism, a rethink regarding the importance of British manufacturing is imperative. New government motivations are needed, or else our nation’s production abilities will soon be a far cry from those two generations ago. The Tory government must stop dismissing the country’s economic potential as a self-sustainable producer and reincarnate its fast-diminishing presence within global trade and national development.

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