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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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.

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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UK Politics, World Politics

Panama Papers: Britain has the power to halt underhand tax havens

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It may be the biggest journalistic jackpot of the decade, but the discovery of the Panama Papers should provoke changes to our societies spanning even longer timescales. Over 11.5m files leaked to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung and shared with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists amongst myriad other media stations have clarified stark truths of our split societies. Britain, Iceland, Russia and China, alongside more neighbouring countries have had their tycoons, politicians and oligarchs exposed in relation to such unjust tax evasion.

The tax malpractice revelations of Panamanian legal firm Mossack Fonseca and its clients reveals a deep hypocrisy at the top of our society. The setting up of false companies in order to evade income tax is sanctimonious, and the frequent investment of millions in illegal markets is perilous to the international community. This cycle of shady financing has only aided those with links to some of the most hazardous operations in the world, including the funding of organisations linked to North Korea’s questionable nuclear programme.

If anything, the Panama Papers prove that our society is far from just. David Cameron has commanded many of Britain’s poorest to suffer the effects of devastating austerity whilst the most wealthy have continued to inappropriately satisfy their greedy financial appetites. It is unscrupulous that the Prime Minister has advocated for such widespread working class cuts, whilst his relations, Tory party donors, and numerous high earners continue to dodge income levies. In a modern society, the existence of one rule for the rich and another for the ordinary citizen is shameful.

Not only these ravenous Brits who must be flagged up for their blatant wrongdoing. Colleagues of international figures including Russian President Vladimir Putin, Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, and members of the formidable Chinese politburo have, in past days, had their dignity laid before them. Even Iceland’s Prime Minister Davíð Gunnlaugsson is now facing popular calls for his resignation after exposure of he and his wife’s offshore earnings. The intriguing Scandinavian nation boasts one of the best equality ratings in the world, but it is clear that some public officials must still be rebuked. Whilst not all of the aforementioned politicians have themselves taken part in tax dodging, knowledge of such underhand tactics is nothing short of negligence.

It seems that the global leaders who are launching crackdowns on corruption within their home nations just cannot help themselves. Such a gap between the people and their leaders should not exist in the 21st century. The modern class divide goes beyond occupational status or a mere tax band rating. Our elites should not be torn in such an abominable conflict of interests regarding their scheming and shady financial agenda. A select few international politicians evidently seek to strengthen the pockets of only those amongst their own social class, and not the pockets of majority. So who can citizens trust, watching on as their leaders are embroiled in such unforgiveable hypocrisy? Perhaps the most worrying aspect of these revelations is that our rule of law continues to be diminished. The lawmakers are heavy-handedly exploiting the system and continue to prevent the tying of profound excise loopholes. Our politicians are no longer standing up for the hardworking people, small businesses and social justice they once appeared to.

Such striking kleptocracy is alive and well within our global society. It is now time for the true leaders to put an end to this unfair exploitation. In fact, Britain could very possibly stand the moral high ground. With myriad shell companies having been set up in British colonies, the UK has a bright light to shed on operations within such tax havens. Soon, the Cayman Islands, Panama and the British Virgin Islands could become subject to hard-line reprimands. Only with strong support from Britain may principles of income equality and fairness be reinstated with regard to tax contributions worldwide.

There is one answer to this very real issue. Britain has the chance to assume a leading role in the condemnation of exploitative individuals and the abolishment of such unfair loopholes. Without this support, political corruption and large scale deprivation amongst humanity will prevail. Let’s see our politicians advocate for real social justice and the prevention of big business and the most affluent taking such astonishing advantages. Cameron’s blaming of the widespread use of these schemes on HMRC laxity is a puny scapegoat.

Perhaps I am just a pessimist, but Sunday’s landmark leakage has shown us the disgraceful deceit and dishonesty which is abundant throughout society. It has once again reiterated the evils which continue to prevent our global community from progressing towards equality, justice and prosperity.

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Business, UK Politics

Businesses mustn’t get too big for their boots when it comes to tax

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Google, Amazon, Vodafone and Apple are just a few of the multinationals which have made the headlines in recent months, but not only because of the revolutionary products and services upon which so many of us rely.

Over the past few months, the aforementioned companies, amongst many others, have received stark warnings over heinous tax avoidance schemes. Towards the end of December, it was revealed that Apple owes at least €880m in tax to the Italian government. Only in the same month had a startling report been published detailing over 500 corporations who had not paid their fair share in Australia, and this month it has come to light that Google has failed to pay anywhere near its 20% corporation tax. It seems that there will be no end to the corporation tax saga anytime soon.

Whilst our government takes away support for those whom day-to-day struggles for necessities is a reality, we should in fact be turning our attention to the activities of big business.

Many of the most prominent household name brands are simply not punished enough for this staggering wrongdoing. The extent of tax exploitation indeed involves only the very few, but the extent of the problem is far-reaching. In actual fact, Google has only had to pay back £130m in taxes, a mere fraction of their dues which have spanned the past decade. Further to this, Apple paid back to Italian authorities only €318m to ‘settle’ the dispute, a fee which again does not amount to full payment. Here, there is a fundamental flaw. The point of this repayment should not be to ‘settle’ any arguments. Companies should have to pay back their full debts in order to feel some real pressure and eradicate such fiendish tactics.

One thing is clear. Tax avoidance is eroding our society’s core economic values and our precious rule of law. Hard punishment for culprit companies must become real. In this era of capitalism, which has albeit seen a sparkling global economy, the organisations with a monopoly have an increasingly strong hold over political and economic agenda of our nation. Once one company takes advantage of the system, the rest will follow. The Conservative leadership is evidently failing to attack the underhand game plan of some companies, a government strategy which is punishing the poor and rewarding the deceit of the wealthy.

Without the contributions of organisations at the centre of our society, development of our nationwide economy will become slow and arduous. Multinational companies must give something back in order to support the small businesses which may one day grow to follow in their footsteps.

The European Union’s plans to finitely control tax payments from businesses in the light of these revelations is thus reassuring. Chancellor George Osborne must indeed keep businesses on his side but regulate them strongly, in the same way that the ordinary citizen is kept in line. Britain’s tax body, HMRC, must become more transparent and accountable to the public, making sure that all contribute their fair share.

A market economy like that of the United Kingdom can be hugely successful, but the recent tax scandals have proven that a degree of real state regulation is paramount. Britain’s monetary future must have fairness in its roots, a concept which must further become the spirit of our large businesses.

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