europe, society, UK Politics, World Politics

Politics isn’t about what you favour, but instead about what you don’t

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It has been a long time since I have heard predominantly good things being spoken of a politician, the current political landscape, or their policies. Perhaps some of the moments which last sparked jubilation in the political sphere were when Barack Obama was elected as the first black US President, when Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was last seen conversing naturally with a group of – actually interested – schoolchildren, or when German Chancellor Angela Merkel stood in front of Syrian refugees with open arms.

But it seems that right now, political contentment is at a low. The tone of debate around the world has degraded in recent months, and many of our politicians and their policies seem to revolve around counteracting some form of societal evil. Every day we are instructed that immigrants, nuclear power stations, or even Donald Trump will be the reason for the world’s end. Energised by multiple failings from both above and below, a wide range of voters, activists, and ordinaries have come to believe that politics is not working, a pessimistic and tiresome mindset which is fuelling politics of bitterness.

This advent has helped to kick-start fiery anti-establishment groups, seeing a rise in politics which focuses on resenting specific parts of society, creating a dangerous political culture. This engagement with ‘blame; policy is rapidly increasing, and is having a somewhat devastating side-effect. Whilst many citizens are, of course, uniting in opposition against what they deem to be most threatening to themselves and society, many are detrimentally turning hurtfully against certain social groups, in some cases minimising minorities and bolstering fear.

A handful of recent events serve to prove this. Only last week, the shooting of British MP Jo Cox showed that a sad minority believes in an act as shameful as killing an elected official. In recent days, Italy’s main anti-establishment party has made huge gains, Italy not the only country to see such a rise. Worldwide, the refugee crisis – the biggest movement of people since The Second World War – has provoked mixed sentiment, including a large pool of anti-immigrant protesters, and in many areas, even xenophobic and racist feelings. And a couple of months ago, the Panama Papers revelations exposed large-scale wrongdoing across global governments, fuelling anti-establishment feeling all the more.

It is no wonder that citizens across the world are bored with such endless, fruitless rhetoric. Fear and hatred are fast coming to define politics as citizens see no other remedy to their ailing governments and communities. Wrongdoing within government, a selfish hostility to an influx of immigrants, and resentment towards our MPs are each playing a part in tearing up society. Politics now revolves around marginalisation – not celebration of the good qualities which enhance our nation.

So, who is at fault for the culture of torment and blame which is reconstructing our political culture? Many would argue that society itself is causing the problem. The rise in barbaric terrorist acts shows that much of the gusto for wreaking havoc comes from the people. But it does indeed look like the Establishment has a monumental part to play. In many cases, electorates around the world have turned dead set on voting for manifestos which show pent up discontent with their current rulers. Recent corruption in relation to financial wrongdoing and offshore accounts, the polarisation of our political parties – fostering such intense left and right wings – and the rise of such casually outspoken leaders such as Donald Trump and Nigel Farage are each contributing to a new politics stubbornness. In the same way as many of our politicians, scores of voters now flippantly find anyone to blame for the worst of societal calamities. The success of anti-immigration ideals and anti-establishment policy emphasises that such an ethos is becoming increasingly – and somewhat worryingly – commonplace.

Hatred and blame are becoming international epidemics, diseasing our politics. On the social media stage, and even on our streets, jibes aimed at specific minorities are growing worryingly normal. The demonisation of a select few is creating an all too casual class of resentment amongst both voters and our leaders – incumbent and prospective. When, indeed, will an air of acceptance, teamwork and common good return to the fore of society’s mind? Without definite steps towards a strong emphasis on co-operation and interdependence, Britain will grow alien to the world in the same way that many deem outsiders as alien to Britain.

If anything, at least our democracy is functioning properly. A healthy democracy must have channels for opposition, but the scale of dissent is becoming too huge. As governments struggle to deal with new political, social and economic challenges, a blaring national forum is playing out. Our principles of free speech and the ability to challenge are evidently strongly in place. But out nation’s obsession with opposition, and the willingness of albeit very few to marginalise set individuals may soon have the adverse effect. The sudden influx of political discontent and the deeply rooted challenges that many pose to the status quo could see the destruction of our democracy.

Perhaps I am, in some ways, no better than the few who continue to rage, exaggerating the pessimism which seems to surround Britain’s politics. Whilst opposition is a fundamentally good thing for politics, the movements in which a select few citizens are involved are turning the act of standing up to certain policies into a license for hatred and resentment. If our politicians and citizens are adamant to blame an failing establishment and lax leaders, perhaps it is indeed our representatives who are wrong, and it is those who continue to fuel such a dirty discussion. Maybe when Britain starts to re-energise its public services, a blame on migrants will diminish, and our discussion will become cleaner. Maybe when our government proves to be truly in touch and right on the level of the people, anti-establishment and its needless addiction to blame will fade away. And maybe when leaders who believe in the acceptance of racial slurs and scaremongering step down from the podium, society will start to rebuild its bridges.

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society, UK Politics

The Westminster system is halting UK political progress

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It doesn’t take the most keen of political junkies to tell that British party politics is reaching a frustrating stalemate. The Labour party, since the growth in support for – and election of – Jeremy Corbyn, has become the arena bearing witness to fierce internal strife over its position on many issues. But the current debate over Britain’s membership of the European Union has smashed the complacency of many Conservatives who believed they were safe from the epidemic of divide. A huge rift has developed between staunch supporters of David Cameron and other hard-line Eurosceptics. If anything, this is a stark message alluding to the evidently out-of-date Westminster Establishment.

The election of Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the Labour party last year marked a significant turning point in Labour policy. Torn between the Blairite ‘third way’ and Corbyn’s by-the-book socialism, vast numbers of MPs are struggling to find much common ground. The Tories have proven to struggle with similar issues of their own, with a camp strongly in favour of ideas from further right, and war over the quandaries in relation to immigration and EU status.

This is worrying for a democracy like Great Britain. If parties fail to wholeheartedly unite and allow such instability to thrive, the future of British government looks bleak. The current Westminster structure is outdated and old-fashioned, unable to adapt to the specificities of modern day voting behaviour. There is simply no way that Britain can be forced to mould itself into such an uncomfortable structure which takes only a few indecisive policy options into account. Without change, governments will become ineffective, oppositions feeble, and the electorate switched off.

This issues lie with the Establishment and its pace alongside a fast-changing society.  Our main political parties of Labour and the Conservatives were once formed with the target of aggregating their respective working and middle class citizens. But nowadays, our political society cannot operate in this way. Social class is now far less important for voters than it was during the war-time and post-war periods.

Thus, the factors of gender, political personality, age, location, and simply the precise issues themselves have gained in astounding importance over the past decade. The attempts of many ‘catch-all’ parties in Britain, and further around the world, to gain the support of the average voter may be somewhat genius abroad, but is seemingly not practical in the UK. The diversity of our nation’s society today means that each person is looking for something different from politicians, and our leaders are failing to inspire each and every one of them. The Westminster parties in Britain are struggling to adapt to the new challenges of the 21st century, and aren’t succeeding in raking in the trust of all sorts. The British political system is stuck in the past in its old social class boundaries, and needs new rules.

So how can Westminster become the dynamic environment for engaging political debate that it once was? The people and the society are in place, but the institutions aren’t keeping up with the electorate’s transformation. The fact that both of the largest parties must deal with somewhat eternal internal splits, and juggle two very different pools of policy, must hint that the political framework of the UK needs to be taken a part and put back together again.

PR is the answer. Many reports have shown that if proportional representation had been used in recent elections, the share of seats in parliament would be markedly different. In 2015, the SNP in Scotland would have seen substantially less seats, UKIP would have achieved a whopping increase, and the Liberal Democrats would gain a position as fourth party in parliament with a 7% share. The key advantage with PR, is that it is a modern system designed for a modern society, which takes the growth in issue voting into account. The most important thing is, however, that PR would nurture Conservative and Labour party splits which are much needed for any form of progress. PR would not mean instant death to one of the parties’ internal camps, but would build a separate party stage allowing them to truly proclaim their message, instead of begrudgingly succumbing to their inner opposition.

Perhaps the Tories and Labour would be reluctant to split currently, eager to cling onto their inevitably greater share of power through the First Past the Post system. But in the next ten years, unless both sides unite, the crevasse will grow deeper and a parting looks inevitable. Separate parties with pacts on their similarities, giving a degree of leeway for their differences would revolutionise the Westminster system and make the party system considerably more workable.

We need a change. Through a complete overhaul of the Westminster institution via voting system, politics would become fairer and more true. Certainly, large sections of Britain would become more politically engaged, waving goodbye to the blockaded politics we have witnessed for too many months. Many societies worldwide have made the change, including Germany, New Zealand, and, of course, Scotland. It is time for Westminster to follow suit. If the London Establishment continues to trudge on in Westminster – the abyss of torment and interparty battles – Britain’s democracy will become decayed and society will grow bored of the nation’s dysfunctional decision-making.

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human rights, society, UK Politics

Young people are being forgotten during UK election campaigns

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Over the days leading up to today’s Scottish General Election, I asked many of my fellow students whether or not they would be voting. Many responded enthusiastically, enfranchised for the first time – disregarding the Scottish referendum – as 16, 17, or 18 year-olds. But a large proportion of the answers I received were gravely worrying. Many told me that they didn’t feel educated enough, that they simply had forgotten to change to their new constituency, or that they hadn’t had time to register for a postal vote. The Electoral Commission’s social media drive and overhead billboards have failed to entice voter registration amongst citizens young and old. It seems that our system of electoral registration is failing to inspire many in society – especially students, as well as those who travel regularly.  A boost in electoral bureaucracy, spearheaded by the Tories thanks to recent reform, is making our electoral system more deceptive, and is resulting in the creation of a relaxed political culture. The principles of our nation’s democracy are under threat.

There must surely be something wrong about a society which does encourage people to vote, but makes it increasingly difficult to. Several months ago, Tory legislation removed the ability for collective voter registration, and thus made it less easy to become enfranchised. Due to these new government moves, households and organisations such as universities can no longer place large numbers of individuals on the electoral register at once. To top this, electoral participation is alarmingly low. Around a third of voters – and regularly more – failed to turn up to their local polling station last May.

The fact that such large numbers of people choose not to exercise their right to vote, or are missing – either deliberately or accidentally – from the electoral register is a serious threat to the United Kingdom’s political society. How can governments be held to account? Why should David Cameron and his party be allowed to create such a political monopoly, making it easier for the older and more geographically anchored individual to vote? It is abominable that the government is willing to sit back whilst its agencies fail to make registration an effortless exercise.

As many as 800,000 previously eligible citizens were deleted from the register several months ago. It was further revealed that the electoral register has shrunk by 1.6 million since 2012. In no way have the Tories’ electoral register changes been beneficial to the UK’s democracy. Instead of being a source of inspiration and empowerment, the Electoral Commission has become growingly bureaucratic.

The worst part of the government’s changes is the disrespect for some of the most influential groups of society. Students, many of whom will have to register to vote for the first time, are being failed. Moving between multiple addresses, the government has not provided an effortless registration process for young people. Without the participation of young adults, results of past elections would be markedly different. Voting amongst those aged between 18 and 24 saw a 20% decrease between 1990 and 2010. Perhaps the government is willfully ignoring the youth vote, knowing that their increased enfranchisement would diminish chances for Tory victories. Either way, such blatant disrespect for mass enfranchisement is a crime against democracy.

Besides the Tories’ tactical registration reform, there are other reasons why the youth vote, in particular, is becoming increasingly smothered by those above. Party efforts for encouraging student voting seems very weak. At my student flat in Glasgow during this election campaign, I received a puny supply of direct electoral information. The provision of three leaflets from the Scottish Green Party was very acceptable. However, besides this delivery, as well as one mailshot from UKIP and another from Solidarity, I received nothing else. The fact that a number of the main parties in Scotland – the SNP, Labour, the Conservatives and Lib Dems – were not interested in attracting the student vote through direct canvassing shows that more must be done to sell the pros of enfranchisement to young people. Don’t get me wrong – a large number of young adults are very politically engaged. But those who lack in political knowledge and experience are being forgotten. Surely it is the duty of our governments to promote the excitement and empowerment which comes with electoral participation.

There are several quick and effective fixes to the seemingly increasing threat to our democracy and the UK’s political culture. It is clear that the Tories’ new enfranchisement regulations are having a seriously negative impact on participation, and excluding vast populations from political engagement. Along with increased direct support from individual parties, a perhaps if universities, colleges and other institutions – as well as households – had power to enfranchise people en masse returned, our nation’s democratic foundations would be stronger than ever. On top, huge registration campaigns must become the norm. An inspiring Electoral Commission should be built up, ready to promote the benefits of participation to all. In addition, the lack of direct canvassing towards young people is shameful. An increase must be seen.

It is therefore clear that the political parties of the UK are in danger of becoming complacent. Party leaders do not seem to want to talk to young people as much as they perhaps once did. It seems that the 1920s struggles for suffrage have not ended, and will not end soon. Next year’s Scottish local elections will inevitably receive markedly less attention than this May’s general election. A new era of democratic encouragement must come into being. The Tories’ recent electoral reforms are damaging the chances for strengthened British democracy. Elections should not be made difficult to take part in. For if this is the case, Britain is simply not a democracy. Only tomorrow will we find out how exactly Britain’s young people have exercised their votes in one of the several elections taking place today. Call me a cynic, but I fear that the figures for youth turnout will not be as high as they could be. Of course, those who are politically engaged will certainly be rampant supporters of their chosen party. But without stark rejection of the government’s new registration obstacle course, we will be quietly submitting to the removal of our greatest democratic rights.

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UK Politics

Inner party rivalry is widening the gap for more united centrists

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Last May’s general election delivered a surprising result, with the potential for refreshed British politics. For many, though, the two largest Westminster parties have grown increasingly tiresome. Their petty infighting has continued to dominate headlines and manifest political stalemates. Despite a clear leadership mandate from Labour’s members, Jeremy Corbyn and his socialist team endure a seemingly eternal tug of war with hardcore Blairites, clashing over spending, defence and cuts. Moreover, the complacency derived from the Tories’ May result has come back to kick them. Its right-wingers who long criticised Labour’s disarray have now become aware of their own party’s disharmony. In much the same way as Labour, David Cameron’s Conservative party has become increasingly fragmented, jarred in dispute over Brexit, Boris and budget cuts. The surprise resignation of Iain Duncan Smith has further highlighted such divides. The next few weeks, which centre around the Welsh, Scottish, Northern Irish and Greater London Assembly elections, as well as the pivotal EU referendum, could pose problems for both main party leaders.

If anything, the months following May’s election have shown that British politics is becoming increasingly polarised, and is perhaps in need of new players. The disillusion with Labour and the Tories has opened a gap in the political market. An alternative is needed, and a political entity which has solid policy and loyal supporters could exploit this opportunity for an effortless advance. A force willing to drop strict ideological rules, and instead stand as a united, pragmatic movement could come to the fore.

One particular force does come to mind. In May, the Liberal Democrat party was dealt a blow by the electorate for indecisiveness and coalition pitfalls – a development that many would consider just. The decline the party has suffered since 2015’s general election must now have hit home. After months of lamentation, it is time that the near-destroyed party arrived re-energised at the political scene, ready to exploit the gap in British politics created by endless rivalry by Labour and the Tories. Perhaps the Liberal Democrats could become the true party of welfare, promoting a more centrist, balanced policy for which much of the electorate seemingly yearns. A decisive Tim Farron could start to command unity, strict policy and wholehearted support. With these qualities and intelligent strategy, Farron’s party could, if he chooses, turn into the movement of welfare and social justice that both Cameron and Corbyn’s parties have failed to become.

And what about the possibilities of such an hypothesis becoming a reality? Staunch divides over Brexit, a damaging budget, striking junior doctors, and quarrels over Cameron’s successors may well pave the way for an alternative party like the Lib Dems. Similarly, Labour’s tribulations over nuclear weapons and public spending, making it a dysfunctional force, could soon contribute to the fall of Corbyn. Political discontent is growing, as shown by one stark Ipsos MORI survey carried out recently. It was revealed in February that a surprising 60% are dissatisfied with the Conservative government, and that 51% feel the same with regard to Jeremy Corbyn. These numbers can only have increased by now, given recent developments, and show that the small Conservative majority government has failed to stabilise British society.

The nation’s archaic voting system will also continue to block a centrist revival. First Past the Post has fallen short of adapting to the effects of issue voting and personality politics which may otherwise give voice to smaller political entities. With Britain’s two main parties in a mess, an SNP whose Westminster voice seems marginalised, and modest Plaid Cymru, DUP, Green and UKIP forces, it is time that Westminster became pluralistic and representative.

Perhaps the electorate will soon give way to an alternative after such disorganised politics from all areas of the political spectrum. Maybe Tim Farron’s cleared-up Liberal Democrats are ready to reclaim their positions as kingmakers and moderators, placing themselves closer to the centre of political gravity. Ignoring this chance for political reincarnation would be a missed opportunity. Whilst not at all numerous in parliament, and let alone in government, operating from the sidelines by positively criticising current disarray would be a highly intelligent move. Amidst such chaos, a more coordinated movement, which the Liberal Democrat party has the opportunity to become, could make it a genuinely representative voice within UK politics.

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