New Era for British Politics: Uncertain Times

Who saw it coming? Not many I imagine. What happened? Why did it happen? Questions to be answered in the coming few days.

What a shift in the political landscape we have witnessed in only the last few hours, three of the leaders from the four biggest parties in England and Wales have stepped down due to pressure, disappointing results and the honoring of words. Never before has there been such polarization across the North/South border, arguably a clear indicator of how the Scottish people feel about their place within the future of the United Kingdom. One half of the last government’s coalition has now been obliterated into relative obsolescence, gaining less votes than the rising UKIP. And voter turnout, which, though higher than any election since 1997, was expected to increase by a much more significant figure, with a turnout rate of only 66%, meaning that a third of the population failed to voice their views.

Tragically, it would appear that the story of this campaign has been of scaremongering and smear being espoused by the right-wing media and the Tory party. People have had their senses inundated with messages of Miliband’s incompetence and the risk of another economic downturn at the hands of Labour if elected. It’s been persistent and ruthless, and even more tragically, like a lot of indoctrination, it has worked. Playing on people’s fears is effective, but more importantly, it is exploitative, and is indicative of the political debate that we have in Britain currently. And what is striking from the results is the apparent lack of hope within the English electorate, that they feel this is as good as it gets.

Nigel Farage - Resigned in both senses of the word

Nigel Farage – Resigned in both senses of the word

It is clear now that proportional representation is now no longer just an alternative electoral system, but a necessary requirement for our democracy if it is to regain some semblance of legitimacy. It is an affront to all voters that UKIP, whose policies though I do not advocate, received 12.6% of the total vote but gained only 1 MP of out 650 seats, equal to 0.15% of the vote, roughly 100 times less than what they achieved in reality. Whereas the SNP received merely 4.8% of the vote but 56 seats in Parliament. We can argue about whose policies are better and fairer, but what we cannot argue about is the injustice of the electoral process. Even the Conservatives, who achieved a majority of MPs, in reality, only received 36.9% of the vote, a mere 7% difference between them and Labour. If we therefore take that into consideration with the voter turnout, it shows us that not even a quarter of the voting-age population voted for the Tories. How legitimately can we then recognize this victory for the Conservative Party?

Throughout the campaign, there has been swipes between parties, each saying that the other “doesn’t believe in Britain”. But what the last 5 years can tell us is that David Cameron and his party certainly don’t believe in Britain. Austerity doesn’t constitute belief in its people or in its institutions, it indicates a lack of faith, epitomized by a lack of investment and an excess of cuts. Investment in Britain would have been a more long-term solution, yes, but a solution that the British people would have deserved. The fact that, instead, we have been made to feel that we deserved austerity is obscene. And how ironic it is, however cliche it may be, that it was bankers who brought about this recession, bankers who were bailed out, and bankers who will now reap much of the rewards of the fear that they created.

Nicola Sturgeon - It was all yellow in Scotland

Nicola Sturgeon – It was all yellow in Scotland

A discussion on the BBC this morning raised a sound point. It was said that although Miliband and Labour may have seemingly gained a resurgence during the election campaign, elections are not won during a few months, they are won over four years, and that seems to have been a large factor in explaining today’s results. Miliband was eventually impressive, but it seems to be a case of too little too late. Hopefully he is remembered as a man who tried, and though he failed, fought against the odds and fought the good fight.

With regards to the parting leaders, it is a somber moment. My brother earlier noted that despite their policies and their ideologies, it cannot be disputed that each leader who will be stepping down with immediate effect was in this job because they had the best interests of the country in mind, even Farage, who though I believe to be misguided, showed clear sincerity in his beliefs and his hope for this country. All three leaders, however, stand in stark contrast to the last man standing; David Cameron. How fitting it is that the man who was in it for his career was the only one who managed to keep it. I don’t know whether to laugh or cry.

Nick Clegg - Scapegoated?

Nick Clegg – Scapegoated?

The big question is, however, in spite of the fact that the Conservatives have an official majority, will Cameron and Gove be able to maintain party discipline throughout the entire Parliament term with such a slender majority? In effect, the Tory party is now in an unofficial coalition between the centre-right Tories and the Tories further to the right of the spectrum, who will now have more influence over party policy with their newfound bargaining power, who in the previous parliament were not as essential to Cameron’s moderate policies as he had the support of Clegg and co. And if Cameron does succumb to the more rightist of the Tories, then that can only spell bad news for us all.

As an unashamed Labour supporter, one could have thought today’s results would have disheartened me and dissuaded me from engaging in politics, but rather it has had the opposite effect. It has galvanized and inspired me to do more, to pay closer attention, hold politicians to account to the extent that I can, and try to facilitate positive change. But this article isn’t about me, it’s about all of us and how we react to the results, even if you did vote for the Conservatives and are happy about the result, you still have a duty to make sure that those you elected to represent you and your needs. Although it’s tempting for those of us on the left to hope for Conservative failure during the next five years, we mustn’t let our egos cloud the truth, which is that the state of this nation is more important than any party politics and despite disappointing results we have to hope that the Conservative MPs show some humanity and make a conscious effort to do what they think is right for the people of Britain.

Ed Miliband - Another time, another place

Ed Miliband – Another time, another place

So, since all those weeks ago during the seven-way leaders debate, it was generally agreed that Cameron and Sturgeon emerged victorious, and after all this time, nothing’s changed. Will British politics ever be the same? Nothing is certain anymore it would seem.

David Cameron - Never had it so good

David Cameron – Never had it so good

The EU: To Be or Not To Be

Since former Prime Minister Tony Blair’s speech at a Labour rally recently, much has been made of Ed Miliband’s decision to not give the British public an in/out referendum on the EU.

Whatever your opinion on the EU, one can’t deny the complexity of the implications of Britain’s hypothetical exit. Even experts can’t reliably say what would happen, as that primarily depends upon the reaction of the other member states. Whether they would choose to treat Britain as a pariah, or decide that their economic survival is too fragile to be destabilised by de facto sanctions on a significant trading partner.

Of course it wouldn’t be in any of the member states’ interests for Britain to leave and undoubtedly they will make their feelings known. Furthermore, if events align and the exit of Britain looks like a very real possibility, then it is highly likely that the member states will declare that there will be no renewed trade agreements, that Britain cannot both have its cake and eat it whilst the rest of Europe look on and “endure” the regulations that are imposed upon them by the EU.

If following the election, the UK have a government that wants to conduct an in/out referendum, the public will have to decide whether this rhetoric is a bluff or not and whether to call that bluff. But this isn’t poker. Britain’s economic future is not a chip in a game in which the results can be forgotten so easily and taken so lightly. The question must eventually be asked as to whether our already uncertain economy is something that we as primary stakeholders in this nation can afford to gamble.

Tony Blair - knows what leadership mean?

Tony Blair – knows what leadership means?

In order to decide, we need to discuss what the possible consequences of leaving the EU would be. As mentioned previously it is difficult to tell, but the argument can certainly be made that it would herald the end of the EU itself. With one of the major players in the region leaving, it would unequivocally damage its credibility, whilst setting a precedent for other states to follow suit. With the far-right in Europe on the ascendancy, primarily as a result of the financial crisis in 2007/8, states such as France in which Marine Le Pen’s anti-EU Front National is gaining prominence could follow closely behind. A mass exodus would not be unforeseeable.

Profoundly, this would undo decades of effort sacrificed in order to achieve, against the odds, what exists today; a supranational union envied by the rest of the international community that has helped the region compete economically with growing powers such as China and India and with long-established powers such as the U.S. It is a platform for diplomacy and communication between states promoting cooperation in order to achieve common goals and objectives too large to be tackled by one state alone. The EU also offers a medium through which to combat growing corporate dictatorship that poses more of a threat to state sovereignty than the EU, offering solidarity between states by enforcing blanket regulations on corporations so that they may not hold individual states to ransom. It is clear in my view that the importance of the EU cannot be underestimated.

Britain - The Lone Star State?

Britain – The Lone Star State?

Is Miliband’s decision then, as Blair suggested, a demonstration of strong leadership? If we understand leadership as the quality of being able to make difficult, often unpopular decisions, then yes, I do believe that it was. It is, despite increasing pressure from the public and from right-wing parties to provide one, an admission of the fact that we don’t know what would happen if we were to leave, and that right now, we are not in a situation in which we can risk doing anything drastic. Whereas Cameron has transparently bent to the rhetoric of UKIP in order to appease voters.

In fact, the only reason we as a nation are having the debate on whether we want an in/out referendum is because of the rise of UKIP, and I’m not saying that praisingly. UKIP have succeeded in distracting the public’s focus from other issues and have depicted an exit from the EU as a silver bullet to all of Britain’s problems. We have to ask ourselves whether the EU is the biggest issue in our politics at the moment and, if not, why we are considering having a referendum on it and not other issues. If that is the case, then it cannot be argued that this debate is about democracy, otherwise we’d be arguing for a referendum on every issue. Obviously, whether the EU as an organization is as democratic as it could be is another question for another time.

UKIP - A single issue party. But is it the right issue?

UKIP – A single issue party. But is it the right issue?

This is not the same scale as having a referendum on a domestic policy, this is about our relationship with the international community, an impossibly complicated issue. And if we do have a referendum and we do choose to leave and things turn awry, it might not be as easy as merely re-entering and saying “Okay, we messed up. Can we come back please?” There will very likely be repercussions for our actions, repercussions that we can ill afford. Of course we need to participate in politics, have an informed debate, and hold our politicians accountable but I believe that it’s dangerous to have a referendum on such a huge decision, the implications of which we cannot fully comprehend as of yet.

Ultimately, the final question we must ask is; is the EU doing as much as harm at the moment as the potential benefit that would be achieved by leaving, and how likely is it of achieving that benefit if the UK did leave? The EU isn’t perfect, no one is disputing that, but it does provide several important services for our long-term future. With a world and an economy that is still uncertain, is now the time to add further uncertainty?

The purpose of this article has not been to scare-monger, or to discourage political participation, but to attempt to put issues, namely the EU, into context and allow readers to form an opinion on a subject that has unfortunately been turned into a political football, as have so many others.

Ed Miliband - Britain's next Prime Minister?

Ed Miliband – Britain’s next Prime Minister?

Leaders Debate: The Insurgents, The Pretender & The Incumbent

Leaders Debate

Though, as expected, it was not a revelational evening, Thursday’s two-hour live TV debate on ITV was certainly better than the previous faux-debate, and was the first and last opportunity for all seven parties to go head-to-head with each other and sell themselves to the British public, primarily by denouncing the rest.

But, perhaps more significantly, it was the only opportunity for Ed Miliband to share the stage with David Cameron and challenge the PM’s legacy so that the electorate could compare and contrast the two side-by-side. This is what Miliband would have been waiting for and what, most suspect, Cameron and the rest of his Tory party would have been dreading.

The Conservatives’ campaign has been largely based on promoting the idea of Ed Miliband as an incompetent fool who would put the whole of the British economy in jeopardy if elected in to power. Labour would have been hoping to put that to rest on the night.

The other smaller parties would simply have been hoping to make their voices heard for once in a general election debate largely dichotomized by the mainstream media.

The story of the night was one of solidarity between the progressive insurgents, comprising of the Greens, the SNP, and the little known Plaid Cymru (translated as Party of Wales, pronounced Pl-I’d), opposing everyone else, and each of them against each other.

The membership, apparently proposed by the Tories, certainly paid off for them. Labour would have liked to have stood out as the party proposing change, fighting for the working-class individual, but discovered that, when superimposed onto the rest of the parties (especially the SNP) their USP was not actually that unique, and was not offered as extensively as others.

If the Tories’ plan was to accentuate the divided left, then it succeeded. Much of the debate was consumed by Leanne Wood (leader of Plaid) and Nichola Sturgeon berating Ed Miliband on Labour’s record and undermining it’s long-held but increasingly uncertain image of champion of the common man, clearly targeting it’s voting pool, the most likely “demographic” to switch allegiances to them. Of course there was also the occasional obligatory attack on David Cameron’s term in office, but not nearly as much as would have been expected, or indeed perhaps as much as Cameron and the rest of his cabinet deserved.

UKIP’s leader, Nigel Farage, predictably, aimed to appeal to the audience as the party of unashamed honesty, common sense and good old-fashioned British values, and surprise-surprise, the running theme of his night was immigration, most notably his reference to the burden of foreign HIV sufferers on the NHS.

Going into the debate, Cameron and his party’s track record was both an asset and a liability. Something to use as evidence of a successful term, but also something to be used by others as evidence of failure. However, if all went to plan, then all the Cameron would need to do would be to sit back, not mess up hugely, and stand his ground.

You would have been forgiven for thinking that with seven parties, the event would be absolute chaos, but the format went some way to mitigating that, allowing everyone to have their say. Each party leader would have a minute to provide an opening statement, then pre-selected questions would be put to the panel, following which, each leader would be able to make a statement on that subject, and finally, an open debate.

The Greens’ Natalie Bennett’s opening statement in summary was that they would provide an alternative to supposedly inevitable austerity; UKIP’s Nigel Farage said that they were the only party that was truly different, that they wanted out of the EU and controlled immigration, the root of the suffering of the “average Brit”; the Lib Dems’ Nick Clegg argued that the country is in a better condition than it was 5 years ago and asked the British public to let them finish the job; the SNP’s Nichola Sturgeon offered a chance to change the system and make up for broken promises made by so many who had gone before them and that, although they did want Scottish independence, as long as they were a member of the Union they would be a constructive partner, fighting for progressive, liberal values; the Tories’ leader and current PM David Cameron painted a picture of a country on the brink of devastation, saved only by the mercy and initiative of the his government and proceeded to list a resume of achievements, finishing with the choice of the safe, proven Conservatives on the right hand, and the incompetent Labour party on the left; Plaid’s Leanne Wood spoke directly to Wales and of the difficulty faced by communities and the waning hope of the youth; finally, Labour reeled off their tagline, “Britain Succeeds When Working People Succeed”, then a list of Conservative failings and what they would do to rectify them, with a final reassurance of “Britain can do better”.

The first question put the panel was regarding how their respective parties would eliminate the deficit without raising certain taxes and cutting vital services.

The word of the night from the big three was ‘balance’, a balance between spending and cutting. Clegg saying that those with the broadest shoulders should pay their due; Cameron stating that they would raise £5bn by eliminating tax evasion; Miliband saying that he wanted fair taxes and common sense cuts and would aim to “live within our means”. Wood set a target for the deficit and went with the angle that the bankers had been bailed out, and that it was now time for the people to receive the same kindness; Farage in all fairness provided the clearest plan and answer to the question, pointing out that national debt had doubled in five years and outlining that they would save money by leaving the EU, cutting foreign aid and stopping HS2, remarking that although the economy was growing, at some point the debt would have to be faced; Bennett, rather more vaguely, said that her party wanted to reverse the austerity that had caused the poorest to suffer the most in society by investing in the future, saying that the world’s sixth richest society could afford to have strong public services; and Sturgeon argued quite saliently that cutting the deficit is important but not an end in itself, and denounced cuts proposed by Labour and the Conservatives, proposing modest increases in spending in order to invest Britain out of recession, which would admittedly take longer to reduce to deficit but would help alleviate the poverty caused by previous government.

How would the parties ensure long-term funding of the NHS whilst keeping it free?

Generally, the leaders failed to really answer the question. Their answers were ultimately the same as those that they had given to the previous question regarding the deficit. There was a split on the role of privatisation in the NHS, with the progressives completely opposing it and the rest conceding that though it had a role, that role was limited. The only other solutions offered to make the NHS more sustainable were by UKIP, to stop ‘health tourism’ by making sure that foreign workers have private health insurance before coming to Britain; and by the Greens who would emphasize preventative measures such as dealing with air pollution and encouraging walking and cycling.

How would the parties address the issue of immigration?

On this issue, Miliband suggested deterring immigrants by making sure that they wouldn’t be able to claim benefits for at least their first two years of residency, stop employers from undercutting wages and recruiting from exclusively abroad. Wood merely said that immigration was not the biggest issue facing Britain and that Plaid would not stigmatize immigrants. Sturgeon admitted that strong controls on immigration were needed however investment in public services and housing were more of a priority. Cameron said that Britain needed immigration that was controlled and fair, alongside a policy that if you haven’t got a job in six months then you would not be eligible for unemployment benefits, that immigrants would not be able to send child benefit back to their native country, whilst promising an in/out referendum in 2017. UKIP, predictably, claimed that, without leaving the EU, Britain had no power over its borders and therefor there was only one solution, to revert to a trade-based relationship with the rest of the European states. Clegg also said that his party would target “unscrupulous employers” and in fairness provided the best sound-bites for the immigration debate, which were that “Britain should be open for business but not open to abuse” and that the “freedom of movement shouldn’t be the same as the freedom to claim”. Bennett took a similar stance to that of Sturgeon saying that though immigration from outside the EU needed to be controlled, the problems that people faced were not a result of immigration but bad policy.

And finally, what would the parties do to make the youth more optimistic about their future?

Wood said that Plaid would create more jobs, and invest in young people, especially in education, which her party believed to be the best route out of poverty. Miliband also mentioned education but added that Labour planned to reduce tuition fees to £6000 p/a, to ban zero-hours contracts, regulate rents by private landlords and build an extra 200,000 homes a year by 2020. Cameron said that his party planned to increase the quantity and quality of jobs, increase the number and choice of apprenticeships, uncap university places, and build affordable homes exclusive to British citizens. Bennett stated that the Greens wanted to eradicate tuition fees, take action against climate change, and increase the minimum wage to £10 by 2020. Clegg said that the Lib Dems were planning a rent to buy scheme where over a period of time renting a property, the tenant would eventually own it. Farage merely said that UKIP planned to build a lot of houses on brownfield sites and trade more with the Commonwealth.

The leaders then finished with a parting statement. Sturgeon said that the old parties only provided misguided austerity and misplaced priorities, whereas the SNP would invest in the future. Clegg emphasized the balancing act needed in the next few years. Miliband made a stand with the working man and pledged to protect essential services. Wood reiterated that austerity was and is still not inevitable. Bennett declared that we do not merely have a choice to make a choice as to who is the lesser of two evils and that the Greens offered a new kind of politics. Farage contended that the other parties didn’t understand the working class and that UKIP believed in plain-spoken patriotism. Finally, Cameron underlined the increase in jobs and the growing economy that had occurred during his tenure and pleaded for the voters not to reinstate the ones who had reduced the economy to its original state.

It was a bitch-fest, yes, but winners certainly emerged. The leaders who fared best were arguably Nichola Sturgeon and David Cameron. Sturgeon will feel like she succeeded in doing what she had set out to do, which was to engage the disillusioned or on the fence Scottish Labour voters by offering a clear anti-austerity stance, which will have attracted many who were adversely affected by the aftermath of the recession and by the Tories’ economic and social policy of the last 5 years.

As for David Cameron, the debate seemed plain sailing for him. He defended his record well and was not called out on anything too ruinous. He arguably seemed more statesmanlike than Miliband, which is all that he really would have cared about, and something that will have left Labour hopefuls disappointed.

Come results day, as a any kind of majority looks increasingly less likely than it ever was, though Miliband has ruled it out, he might have no choice but to form a coalition with the SNP. It ultimately comes down to a question of whether Labour voters would rather their party form a coalition with a progressive left-wing party, or the alternative, which is that of another Tory government in a possible coalition with UKIP. Only time will tell, and that time is running out.

Catch the full debate here and make your own mind up.

Women and CrossFit: Expectations and Roles

I was never very interested in women’s sport, especially women’s rugby. It’s not something that I’m proud of, but you just can’t compare it to the physicality, the skill, or the sheer intensity of the men’s game. But that’s not women’s fault, before they’re even born, before their parents were born and their grandparents etc., women are always going to be at a disadvantage. This, coupled with the fact that the tradition of women playing sport is relatively young also means that female sport in general is still in a transition phase, and relative to men’s sport is likely still behind by a few decades. Women weren’t genetically engineered by thousands of years of natural selection to be as strong or as fast as men, it just wasn’t part of their job description. Their role was always to bear children, and little else quite frankly. And these gender roles that were created over thousands of years ago have seamlessly ridden the wave of time and once again found a place in the present day.

Probably the first time that I became somewhat interested in women’s sport was in the tennis arena with athletes such as Maria Sharapova, the Williams sisters, Justine Henin and Amelie Mauresmo. I’m not fully aware of exactly what peaked my interest, perhaps it was because I saw tennis as something more appropriate for women to be playing, compared with rugby and football. But more likely I think is that it was because tennis was an individual, rather than a team, sport, and this allowed the personalities of the competitors to transfer across the screen much more effectively. This in turn presumably created a more compelling narrative for me as a viewer. The emotional investment that I had in Maria Sharapova during Wimbledon was far greater than that in which I had in the Welsh women’s rugby team during the Six Nations. Why? Because she had a face and was a person in whom you could take an interest, have a stake in, root for during a tense match. Spread across 15 people, you can’t really become emotionally involved unless they’ve been a constant presence in your life for an extended period of time. Otherwise, that’s a small risk-small return investment, which in financial terms most people would take, but in emotional terms is not worthwhile. We’ve got plenty of feelings to spare. Yet, for all this, I still struggled to enjoy the women’s game as much as the men’s.

The second time was probably whilst watching Jessica Ennis during the 2012 Summer Olympics in London, the competition which many believe really catapulted her into popular culture and fame. This was due in part due to the fact that Ennis had an unconventionally muscular physique that the general public was not used to seeing on a woman, supported also by her being an outstanding athlete that the whole nation could unite around who was not only doing well on the international stage, but winning.

Moving onto yet another sport, CrossFit is something that I have been aware of for a while now. My first impressions were mainly shaped by my brothers’ opinions of it, which were overwhelmingly negative. And I, the impressionable teen that I was, keenly went along with the running joke. For a long time I blindly mocked it, all the while never understanding exactly what it was. It wasn’t until I saw a few clips on YouTube of the international annual event called ‘The CrossFit Games’ that my opinion stubbornly began to change.

No matter what your opinion of CrossFit as a fitness methodology is, you can’t deny that The CrossFit Games is a massively entertaining and impressive event. What I expected to be a group of fumbling fools partaking in a dressed-up sequence of circuits, was instead approximately 80 of the finest athletes from across the world competing in one of the most intense sports events that I had ever seen, all aiming to become champion and win the grand-prize of $250,000.

I was confused. How could I have been so narrow-minded as to just go along with hearsay for so long without having done any investigating of my own to confirm what I was being told was true? I also regretted having not found it sooner. For most of my adolescent life I had always wanted to be the fittest, strongest and fastest person that I knew, or at least the best all-rounder. CrossFit provided the answer. It wasn’t just running, it wasn’t just weights, it wasn’t just rowing, it was all that and more. And the more I watched, the more of a CrossFit geek I became. What appealed was not just what I previously mentioned, but the personalities of the sport, they were all seemingly funny and intelligent, and all aspired to similar goals as my own.

But all of this was not the only odd thing that was happening. As I was trawling through the videos on YouTube, watching one after the other, I wasn’t just watching the men’s events, equally as avidly I was watching the women’s. I became engrossed in the rivalries, their skill, and the tension of the competition. What impressed me, however, was not only those things, but the strength of the women in general. In the Olympic lifts, an integral part of the sport and the most complex movements in weightlifting, the women were lifting vastly heavier weights than I was, or still am for that matter (not for lack of trying either).

This was a revelation to me. It was refreshing and had a profound effect on me. In the case of the women’s events, it combined the grace and personality of the tennis players mentioned previously and the redefinition of what women are expected to look like and are capable of doing that was associated with the likes of Jessica Ennis.

CrossFit has already had a significant impact on many female individuals, especially in America, with regards to their views on what they should look like and what they should be doing in life. Symbolically, the strength aspect of CrossFit completely alters the perception of women as weak and fragile things. I believe, and there is probably quite a bit of research on the subject so if this thought is correct then it’s not an original one, that one of the main roots of the perceived inferiority of women in the culture of many societies is the relative physical strength of men and women. Strength is an easy (and obviously over-simplified) way to measure the dominance of one individual over another, but women taking part in CrossFit can and has gone a long way to changing this mentality to show that women have the capacity for strength comparable to that of men.

Clearly CrossFit is not the first fitness methodology in which women have competed in weightlifting, but Olympic weightlifting on its own is a niche sport that is not given much air-time, especially on major networks and does not widely attract women, much the same as Jessica Ennis and the heptathlon. Of course her achievements were immense but the heptathlon as an event is obscure and relatively inaccessible. Furthermore, Ennis as an athlete will only be given much attention once every four years, as is the schedule of the Olympics, which is truthfully the only athletics event which is given much media coverage. The CrossFit Games on the other hand is, as mentioned previously, an annual event, and even in the time between events, the organizing body of CrossFit does an excellent job of keeping people’s focus on the goings on, the athlete’s training progress etc.

CrossFit has very quickly become mainstream in America, and has subsequently become a platform for female icons in the CrossFit world, such as Camille Leblanc-Bazinet, Annie Thorisdottir, Kara Webb, Julie Foucher and Lauren Fisher, to advocate an alternative lifestyle to the ones currently offered to women everywhere. It is impossible to understate the importance of this. Every day, all day, women and more importantly girls are inundated with images of female body morphologies that emphasize the ideal-type as being ultra-petite and increasingly we hear about the long-term, sometimes irreversible, psychological effects that this can have on women who come to feel a sense of inferiority, worthlessness and disgust towards themselves. Oftentimes these mentalities lead to illnesses such as bulimia and anorexia, serious conditions that have serious physical implications. And these effects are mostly psychological, which is not to lessen their danger, as frequently it is psychological injuries that leave the most enduring and visible scars.

The parallels drawn between women’s current struggle and the plight of black people during the 60s and years before are striking. One key actor during the civil rights movement, who though not an outspoken advocate of Martin Luther King’s movement played a huge role in the minds and mentality of the black people during the time was the boxer Muhammad Ali, formerly known as Cassius Clay. He came to prominence as a result of his immense combination of skill and strength, his unconventional technique and his trash-talk, but what would set him apart from the rest of the boxers in history would be the precedent he set for the black community, and other minorities to come. He refused to conform to stereotypes or categories by which black people of the time tended to be assorted, and made a point of letting the world know it. He would not be Joe Louis, the pleasant, appeasing negro, and he would not be Sonny Liston, the violent thug. Ali realised that his potential was not limited by where he was from or by the colour of his skin and that he could create his own future.

Following Ali’s famous first victory over Liston, Ali was asked in a press conference about his affiliations with the Nation of Islam, and replied “I don’t have to be what you want me to be. I’m free to be who I want.”

CrossFit has certainly changed my attitudes towards women in sport, and women in general, and hopefully it can do the same for others. The importance therefor of the various aspects of CrossFit is not only about the perception of women by men, but also the perception of women of themselves. This blog has hopefully served not to patronize women but rather to remind those who’ve perhaps forgotten it or who even might not have known it, that no matter what people may expect of you, who or what people think you should be or do, the only way in which you are limited or defined, is by your choices and by your ambition.

Why Game of Thrones is Great

Screen Shot 2015-01-30 at 01.19.13

You’ve probably all read a lot of hype about Game of Thrones, had your ear filled with chat about how amazing it is, and have probably become sick to death of it by now. I don’t care.

About two weeks ago, my girlfriend and I, after having made an old pact to finally get around to watching it together at some point, finally did it.

Prior to watching it, I had already seen the first three episodes, and a couple of random ones on Sky Atlantic as background TV whilst downstairs some nights (yes, I do care about the environment, and yes I do feel guilty but it’s relaxing and helps me be a better person the next day) and to be honest, much to the dismay of a few of my die-hard fan-friends, I really was not all that keen. From what I had seen, all I could make of it was that it was just glorified Lord of the Rings spin-off, soft-core, fantasy pornography. How wrong I was. Oh, how wrong I was.

Admittedly, season 1 began slowly, as most TV series do. You need to get a feel for what it is, get to know everyone and everywhere significant. But what ensued, turned out to be some of the best TV drama that I have ever witnessed.

Game of Thrones is more than just cool fights, bad-ass characters and boobs. Of course those things help its cause, but it’s the subtler elements that give it its greatness. The realms upon which it touches extend from philosophy, religion, psychology, politics and much more.

The philosophy discussed and alluded to in Game of Thrones is largely political. It primarily concerns sovereignty, and how it is attained. How, in this Game of Thrones, one succeeds and is finally able to walk up those steps and sit on the thousand iron swords. Lord Varys, the eunuch poses a riddle which aptly summarizes this question:

“Three great men sit in a room: a king, a priest, and a rich man. Between them stands a common sellsword. Each great man bids the sellsword kill the other two. Who lives, who dies?”

Who has the power? He who has the will of the people, he who has the will of God, he who has the will of gold, or he who has the will of force? It is a fundamental question that has been debated by political philosophers for centuries.

One of its biggest strengths is one that many other great films and TV series share. That is that it manages to give a voice to every character as an individual. Classically it shows us that everything is not as black and white as it may first appear. This is where it touches upon psychology, the study of human behaviour. Everyone is as they are for a reason. I think it was John Farnham who said; “We’re all someone’s daughter, we’re all someone’s son.”. Ne’er had a truer word been spoken. The greatest poet of our generation some would say. I wouldn’t say that but that’s besides the point. We’re all influenced by our genetics, given to us by our parents, our upbringing, in which parents play a big part, present or not, and our general environment. Game of Thrones shows us that everyone has their own reasons for being who they are, reasons that may not be so apparent to a stranger at first sight. It also tells us that even those who have committed the greatest of atrocities have the capacity for good, compassion, and that certainly, we all, at some points in our life, even for the flashest of seconds, experience emotion and display vulnerability. Ultimately, what Game of Thrones also shows us is that we are all humans, equally distinct and indistinct from one another, and one thing that does unite is our mortality. No one is above death, and Game of Thrones seemingly mocks the concept of kings and divine right to rule, as we are all equal before some form of God. The God of Death, The God of Light, whatever he(/she/it) may be.

Perhaps this is it’s greatest asset. Of course some of the biggest philosophical questions in history are regarding politics and the universe, but what truly grasps our interest are questions of the self, of the human condition. We all want to understand ourselves because no matter what, for whatever reason, we are self-interested beings, consciously and/or subconsciously seeking to answer the question of who and why we are.

All this and its sheer intricacy, attention to detail, immense and number of uber-compelling simultaneous sub-plots makes Game of Thrones one of my all-time top 3 TV dramas, alongside True Detective and The Wire (in no particular order).

HBO must be doing something right, and whatever it’s been doing, it’s been doing it for a while and doesn’t seem to be stopping anytime soon.

What conditions are necessary for democracy to emerge and thrive? Make an argument about the relative importance of different factors for democratization.

In order to discuss the topic of democracy, we must first understand what democracy is and have an agreed standard before proceeding, however, an absolute definition has yet to be agreed upon due to its subjectivity, which has lead to differing models of the ideal democracy, against which, we compare all other real-life democracies

You will find that my interpretation of democracy as a concept and a process is more similar to that of Dahl’s thick definition than Schumpeter’s thin definition and therefor a combination of the procedural and substantive (Caramani, 2008), and I will argue that logically, in order for it to thrive, we must maintain the aspects that define it.

Democracy is the process of fair, pluralist, competitive and free (meaning no coercion or rigging of) elections by an informed, free (with regards to thought, expression (insofar as it does not affect other citizens’ rights) and association) and equal electorate who have certain “constitutional guarantees” (Caramani, 2008) to these rights, to elect accountable and transparent representatives of the beliefs and requirements of citizens in order to vote and discourse on their behalf on matters concerning them. Dahl summarizes the above rights in three of his eight institutional guarantees as 1) Formulating preferences 2) Signifying these preferences and 3) Having these preferences equally weighted in the conduct of government (Caramani, 2008). According to Diamond, post-election, the elected representatives and leader must have the scope of their powers limited by a Madisonian style checks and balances system (Caramani, 2008) where there is a separation of powers through the branching of government, all of which have to co-operate in order to govern, which primarily “controls the exercise of executive power” (Caramani, 2008). But in a democracy, the responsibility falls also with the citizens who must have an “acceptance for the rule of law” (Caramani, 2008) and “respect…for the rights of individuals…to express their interests and opinions…[and have] tolerance…of pluralism and diversity.”

Of course, in order for democracy to thrive, the above conditions must conserved, and even improved in quality, but there are other conditions that improve the probability of a democracy thriving. Generally, in order for a democracy to function well, the STS must have a strong economy that allows for increased individual prosperity (Inglehart & Welzel, 2009), and a governmental policy that distributes the wealth fairly and taxes proportionally (Petring, 2012, p. 10-15). Welzel and Inglehart argue that democracies that have a largely export-based economy are more likely to survive (2009, p. 32). Education is arguably the most important unwritten factor that supports democracy as it “has brought widespread recognition of the possibility of democracy, thus creating a desire for it” (Atlee, 2008). Education also allows an individual to better analyse ambiguous manifestos and articulate their ideas more efficiently so that the quality of public discourse is higher. However, in order for the population to be educated, the quality of the education provided must be high and all encompassing, with no propaganda or government agenda. Nevertheless, education comes not only from usually state-controlled educational institutions but from a free and ethical media that reports the actions of government, exposes any possible misconduct by members and informs the citizenry of current affairs and provides the facts in order for people to form their own independent opinions. But more than media, there is also a requirement for other non-government organizations to act as watchdogs of the government in cases of corporate lobbying for example. “They should lobby for access to information, including freedom of information laws, and rules and institutions to control corruption…and lobby for good governance reforms.” They also have a further role that involves “educating people about their rights and obligations as democratic citizens.” Education of the people also needs to encourage “tolerance, moderation [and] compromise”, hallmarks of democracy that will encourage society to view all citizens equally and to treat them as such. This is also related to the predominant secularism of democracies which is a result of the necessity of egalitarianism, which is a principle opposed by many religious doctrines.

So, the above aspects are ones that are indicative of the ideal model of democracy, however, what are conditions necessary for the emergence of a democracy? The principle theory and most accepted regarding this is Modernization theory.

Ronald Inglehart and Christian Welzel descirbe modernization as:

“a syndrome of social changes linked to industrialization… [that] tends to penetrate all aspects of life, bringing occupational specialization, urbanization, rising educational levels, rising life expectancy, and rapid economic growth. These create a self-reinforcing process that transforms social life and political institutions, bringing rising mass participation in politics and — in the long run — making the establishment of democratic political institutions increasingly likely…A massive body of evidence suggests that…economic development does tend to bring about important changes in society, culture, and politics…that are especially conducive to democratization…Empirical evidence indicates that each phase of modernization is associated with distinctive changes in people’s worldviews. Industrialization leads to…a shift from traditional to secular-rational values. The rise of post-industrial society brings…an increasing emphasis on individual autonomy and self-expression values.” (Inglehart and Welzel, 2009).

Essentially, what Inglehart and Welzel are saying is that industrialisation brings about higher standards of living by generating a growing and efficient manufacturing and exportation industry within the economy. The wealth generated from this increases the overall welfare of the population. They argue that these changes in economic situations are associated with a change in values and priorities as the population can afford to become culturally active and better educated. This cultural participation then leads to political participation as they are made further aware of their rights and are exposed to various concepts and ideas that advocate emancipation. During this period, Dahl postulates that three pillars of democracy take place, that is; Incorporation: the suffrage of minorities, Representation: civilians gaining the right to form political parties, and third, Organized Opposition: the right of representatives of the electorate to enforce executive turnover (Caramani, 2008). The “values surveys [by the World Bank and the World Values Survey] demonstrate that the worldviews of people living in rich societies differ systematically from those of people living in low-income societies…[that represent] a cultural shift that occurs when younger generations emerge that have grown up taking survival for granted. Survival values give top priority to economic and physical security and conformist social norms”. These, in the mind of a growing and increasingly educated middle-class who are “increasingly likely to question rigid and hierarchical authority” are replaced by rational-secular values which place an emphasis on political autonomy and independence, more natural and universal desires, once security is made more certain (Inglehart & Welzel, 2009).

With regards to the relative importance of each of these factors involved in modernization, clearly the two principle processes are industrialization and education. I am convinced by the argument that the rate of education has a positive relationship with economic development, however I would not say that education of the masses could not happen indepdendently. Education and awareness of political rights and injustices can be brought about by the political action of an informed group of individuals and a democratic revolution can be stimulated as a result. The main caveat to this however, would be the point referred to by Inglehart and Welzel, that due to the citizens’ lack of economic security they would be reluctant to risk the welfare of their families for a set of rights that, in perspective, seem like luxuries. However, in response to this objection, though it may not necessarily be political education that facilitates industrialization, it is education of some form nonetheless.

Citations

Capital Punishment: The Debate

The debate surrounding the issue of capital punishment is one that has gained much attention since the advent of modern human rights in the last century or so. As with all the topics that I will be discussing, it is one of the most fundamental that we as a global society face today.

Currently, according to my sources, 58 countries, globally, actively employ the death penalty, the United States being one. However, as you may well know, the United Kingdom does not.

So, what are the arguments for and against this method of punishment? Clearly there are many on both sides, and my intention is to introduce a select few. I do not profess to offer a solution, only the information, so that you, the reader, may attempt to form your own opinion.

To proceed; what is the purpose of capital punishment? Many people believe that it serves as an effective deterrent from people committing certain heinous crimes, namely, murder. And of course it could be argued strongly that a person would be further inclined to reconsider their actions with the knowledge that, if caught, they could be given the ultimate punishment for their crime. However, it is my view that oftentimes, the murder is not preordained and perhaps occurs as a result of the stress of the situation that a person may find themselves in, therefor, it is improbable that this person would be thinking of the consequences, but it would be prudent to note that it is likely that this would then be taken into account by the jury and the judge during sentencing, and the death penalty would be unlikely to be given.

The death penalty is most often given when the act is planned in advance, and there is a calculated intent, which indicates more sinister motives, and it is more so these types of perpetrators that the punishment aims to deter. The issue with this is that many believe that it doesn’t serve as a sufficiently effective disincentive because there has been strong enough statistical data to support that in many instances, countries or states that employ capital punishment still have high murder rates and therefor it is not effective. However, others counter-argue that the point of capital punishment is not simply as a deterrent, but, instead, serves to be a sufficient and appropriate punishment for the crime in question and that in each instance, the deterrence is irrelevant, and it is the matter of someone committing an unforgivable act and suffering the consequences of it.

One thing we must consider when talking about the death penalty is what precedent does it set for further generations in terms of how we value the life of a human being, and does capital punishment do a disservice to the meaning of life and does it almost disrespect the lives of the victims to take another? To summarize, does the death penalty undermine the value of human life by consciously taking it away from an individual? And if we consent to the use of the death penalty, does this alter our perception of the value of life?

Another aspect of murder is, is a prerequisite of committing it being evil, or does one just have to be desperate? And, are evil and mental illness synonymous? Many people would define evil as a complete lack of empathy and therefor cannot have a moral code, and as a result has the capacity to commit immoral acts that we as a society have agreed are unacceptable. People who exhibit these characteristics are often called psyschopaths. Mental illness is defined as a condition which causes a serious disorder in a person’s thinking and thusly their behaviour. Judging by these two definitions, you could make the argument that evil is a mental illness, whereby the disorder is a lack of empathy, which is a result of a defect in the right supramarginal gyrus in the brain, which in turn, results in behaviour that can be construed as contrary to what we believe is right. One question we can derive from this aspect is; can empathy be taught or learnt? Which brings us to the elementary ‘nature vs nurture’ debate. For the sake of argument, let’s assume not, therefor, what conclusion can we draw from this? That all murderers should be put in mental asylums, and that all others who commit it as a result of desperation should be sentenced to a term in prison as their motives were not malevolent per se? And if these people were institutionalised, what would be the purpose? To rehabilitate them, or to isolate them from civilization so that they are not a danger to others? The problems that arise from these solutions are that with rehabilitation, we have to question whether evil is incurable, and if it is, by the use of drugs and surgery, how much research has been done and how reliable these treatments are, but, on the other hand, if it is not, then what the purpose of them being held in an institution is if there is not chance for rehabilitation, as their quality of life will almost certainly be poor, and the burden on the tax-payer will be significant, which leaves us to conclude that if they are of no service to the public, and of no service to themselves, despite the fact that the case could be made that the crimes they committed were a result of a mental illness and therefor not their fault but the fault of their genetics, then they should be sentenced to death, if not as a punishment then as an act of mercy. Would the more humane alternative be that they should be given hope, by being subject to tests that could benefit future individuals in their situation but also, if the tests are successful, themselves? Moreover, despite the fact that we could argue that the acts were out of the control of the criminal, did they have any restraint at all, and if so, to what degree, and should we still maintain that if you take someone’s life, that you forfeit your right to live also?

Now we move on to a point that I feel is even more important when discussing this issue. If we are to employ capital punishment, who will be the executioner? In my view, it is immoral for any individual to execute a criminal, even if under the instruction of the government, and it is immoral for the government to instruct someone to do so also. It is my belief that killing another human being, no matter whether the motive is for justice in the name of the law, is immoral and wrong. It is also immoral to ask someone to carry out this act, as things such as this, even subconsciously can weigh heavily on a person’s conscience, no matter what method is used, be it gas chamber, the electric chair, firing squad, lethal injection, no matter how many executioners there are. We cannot ask any innocent human being to kill another human being in the situation of an execution (I believe that during war this is a different debate altogether), regardless of the crimes that that person has committed. Even if we program a robot to do it for us, someone has programmed that robot, and is still directly responsible, therefor, in my eyes, we come to an impasse, where, even if the subject is found to be deserving of the death penalty, to ask of someone to execute that individual would be almost as immoral as the acts of the criminal in question, a preordained, conscious choice to take the life of a human being. A radical solution that my mind once stumbled upon was to possibly necessitate other murderers to carry out the execution themselves, in a controlled situation where there was no risk of the criminal harming anyone else. The case to support this is that this person is already unable to feel remorse for their actions and therefor arguably cannot be negatively affected psychologically, however, can we justify allowing a previously convicted murder to murder again in order to keep our consciences clean? And if so, isn’t this just innately an uncomfortable and unnatural situation that is inhumane?

On another note, some would argue that it’s irrelevant, as life imprisonment is a worse and more fitting punishment than death, however herein lies the problem, both the criminals themselves and the public have differing opinions on which is worse, and realistically, it is practically impossible to find out which the subject would rather the least.

Therefor, to conclude and summarize, the points to consider are: is murder an act committed by a mentally ill person, and if so, can we justifiably say that it is their fault? If not, then what are we to do with them if their condition is incurable? And if capital punishment is the answer, morally, can we allow innocent individuals to carry out the execution? Ultimately, this, and all debates are matters of perception and opinion, of which of course there are no right or wrong, only compromise.

I sincerely hope that this blog has helped further your comprehension of this long-standing debate and perhaps challenged what you previously believed.

Thank you for reading, until next time.

Are you watching closely?

My Argument Against Exams

First of all, let me start this post off by clarifying, I don’t just hate exams because I’m bad at them. I’ll admit, that’s a contributory factor, but far from the whole story. I truly believe that there is something fundamentally wrong with them.

In my view, the purpose of education as a whole, is to nurture the following qualities (I plan on expanding on these below points in a separate post):

  • Critical thinking and the ability to ask questions and not accept things at face value
  • Independence of thought
  • The ability to articulate, communicate and express ideas, thoughts and emotions engagingly and efficiently
  • The ability to enjoy and appreciate different aspects of life
  • Become more morally aware and realise the importance of this in a society that, largely, has lost sight of it
  • Make us more aware of the wider world but also of ourselves and gain a better understanding and empathy for these things
  • Enjoy learning and through this, become better, more rounded people, in our quest for self-actualization

I can understand why we have exams, of course I can. Without trying to sound to condescending, sadly, as it stands, in contemporary society, we need qualifications in order to valued and to be ranked accordingly, so that we can be given personalised estimates and representations of our abilities, and of our characteristics such as will to work hard and our commitment and reliability through the method of fair (debatable) tests. Clearly, the true end-purpose of them is to gain grades, which are, in theory, proportional to the quality of university you go to and thusly, the standard of job in which you will be employed during adult life. And that sounds fair enough, right? You need to have a good (well-payed) job so that you can have a good life and enjoy it, that’s simple modern logic. But that’s the tragedy of it, and the tragedy of capitalism (something I plan on getting into much further detail in the future, watch this space).

We live in a society where money is everything and where having a good income secures you status, and a comfortable living, and all other good things in life that money can buy (though it shouldn’t), even if that means doing something you hate for a living. It’s lamentable enough that this is the case for the outside world, but when this attitude starts to insidiously permeate educational systems, places that ought to be strongholds of hope, enlightenment, enjoyment and fulfillment, and corrupt everything they stand for, you start to get a sense of despair. Is nothing sacred?! 

I’ve said this many times to many of my friends, school should be the best place in the world. It should be outrageously enjoyable to go to a place along with all of your friends, socialize, take part in activities that you in enjoy and then learn something new every day, all the while, with the contribution of all these things, grow as a person each day. But for many, this simply isn’t the case.

It is my sincere belief that exams have negatively influenced education to such a degree, that, in fact, they have only served to hinder us in achieving our potential in whatever that may and our development as individuals, which, frankly, is inexcusable. We are becoming automatons on a conveyor belt, being packaged for the work-place where we will spend the rest of our days in willful acquiescence and timidity. I say; no more. Life is more than just making money from a monotonous occupation.

Naturally, regulations are essential in many aspects of life in order to ensure universal standards, however, exams have manipulated curriculums into such rigid and stale things, without room for improvisation, and in doing so, have squeezed all of the life and enjoyment out of our education. Because, in later years, everything we learn is geared towards an end of year or end of term examination, teachers are coerced into rushing the material, and teaching it the course formulaically whilst simultaneously not being able to allow deviation from the core subject matter, which means no “irrelevant” questions. This in particular, is something that I have become infuriated with due to personal experience in high-school. When I first started sixth-form, I found that what we were learning was actually quite interesting, and I wanted to learn about it, in detail, understand the context of it all, and the potential implications of what we were learning, in perhaps, with regard to the course requirements, too much detail. So I would ask questions all the time, expressing a keen interest to learn and a hunger for knowledge. But pretty soon, the teachers started saying, “You don’t need to know that, it’s not relevant to the course.”. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing, something I had never really given much thought to was suddenly made so apparent; we’re being made into robots. How is that justifiable? Should those words be uttered in a class-room, by a teacher no less? I’ll let you be the judge of that.

In all fairness however, the only teacher to take a stand against that contemptible interpretation was my old GCSE English teacher (who cannot be named for legal reasons) who once said to us in his calming and relaxed tone that seemed to make every word that he spoke seem impossibly wise, “I don’t care what you get in your exam, just as long as you enjoyed reading this book.”. That was inspirational, and something I will never forget, he truly understood what it was all about, that exams weren’t the be all and end all, and that success was not just defined as passing an exam. That the purpose of life is something greater and far more profound.

However, despite that, here we have, an education system that says, “this is what you have to learn, here’s how you have to say it, here’s how long you have to try and say it, here’s how long you have to remember what you need to try and say.”. It makes me sick. I’m not just casually engaging in some throw-away hyperbole, it quite literally does make me sick. And I’m sick to death of it by now. Like cattle, we as students of life are being homogenized by a government that’s forgotten what the purpose of education and life is, and consequentially, we are being subjected to methods of teaching that are plainly not fit for purpose, obsolete, and not fit for what we deserve. We do not deserve to be ranked on the narrowest of criteria, we are not merely numbers or grades, to be sorted through without giving due attention or consideration to the vast array of other qualities that we possess as sentient human beings. To categorise us, label us and reject us, on the basis of a subjective grade is an injustice to what we are, who we are and what we can be, and does nothing good for us. At the end of the day, we are so much more than grades and “qualifications”. My argument isn’t based on the fact that obviously some people do better than others, and I don’t believe that everyone should be the same, but we shouldn’t all be defined by one category. Because that one definition, can define the rest of our lives.

I understand that many people aspire of going to university, so how else are we going to be admitted? I believe that the three categories that we should be assessed on during university applications are a personal statement (I found this to be a great opportunity to express myself and who I was efficiently), a reference (officially approved by the referee) and an interview. Some might say that it is unreasonable for a university department to interview hundreds of candidates, but at the end of the day, the university has discretion on how many students it admits, and the “calibre” of them, after all, they need us as much as we need them, and it is unquestionably in their best interest to gain the highest quality of students who are suitable for that course, and I believe a face-to-face interview is an ideal opportunity to discuss topics not included in a personal statement or to elaborate on those that are, whilst also getting a sense of the person themselves and their enthusiasm for the subject, which there really is no substitute for. 

I dream of a world in which all schools are places where you a free to learn what you want, free to excel at what you please, to take as much as you want out of a lesson and be able to have long, impassioned discussions and debates and conversations with teachers who are our shepherds in the early stages of life and who can impart much wisdom, and as a result of an abandonment of a caged curriculum, will undoubtedly enjoy their jobs much more and will therefor be able to teach much better.

Ultimately, exams are a vacuum of enjoyment in education and of the experience of school, as there is undue pressure on children who are taught that failing is an inherently bad thing. It isn’t. We should be taught to take risks and opportunities and almost welcome failure so that we can learn and become stronger and become more outgoing and confident; major ingredients in a recipe for enjoying life. Exams make us cautious, anxious and fragile, and in many cases make us feel inadequate, when in actual fact, what’s wrong is not with you, but with education itself.

On principle, I cannot agree with the Tories and Mr Gove, exclusively as a result of their educational ideologies, to go back to the memory-based method of learning. When will they learn? It is scientifically proven that, genetically, people have different capabilities when it comes to memory capacity, and these “fair tests” are quite the opposite, and do not nurture enough skills or qualities that we value.

We need to take the pressure off students and inspire them, not force them to grow up too soon, life’s too short to be worried and school too precious to waste, and exams do nothing to facilitate this ideal.

Thank you for reading.

Are you watching closely?

 

Why I’ll Be Voting For the Ethical Party in the European Elections

Stand Up for Society

I’ve given quite a bit of thought as to whom I would be voting for in the European Elections in the last two weeks. I’ll admit, I went through a phase of frustration and anger towards the EU where I saw it as an expansionist, bureaucratic machine that only acted as another obstacle to change and that didn’t have the interests of Britain in mind, but rather, desired ever closer political and economic union through the centralisation of legislation of areas of governance in which it doesn’t belong. And to a large degree, I still believe that. As a result, I was inclined to vote UKIP for a short while, more of an expression of my resentment towards the EU, and as a means of changing our relationship with the it and renegotiating terms, in order to regain our sovereignty and our independence so that we can act in the best interests of our country, and not have to conform to common laws which compromise too many of our needs. However, the time came when I could no longer ignore the slightly extreme candidates and MEPs or set aside my differences with UKIP regarding many policies such as immigration, global warming, taxation and public spending and I was forced to look for another option. It was and still is my view that the main three parties could not offer anything different, they’d had plenty of chances in the past to change things for the better, but I was short on evidence to support the case otherwise.

I’ve always been a fan of the Green Party, ever since taking the “Vote for Policies not Personalities” survey where I turned out that I was a big supporter of Green Party policies, and upon researching further into their agenda for Europe, was pleasantly surprised at how ethically, socially, environmentally and economically viable a party they were. Probably incorrectly portrayed as a bit of a “hippy” organisation, with their name giving the impression of a one policy party, they’ve never really gained any political momentum over the years. They are, however, the closest that Britain has to a socialist party, and not in the derogatory sense of the word. By socialist, I mean in the benefit of the people and the advancement of social welfare through sustainable and ethically-sound policies, and I hope that you’ll find, by reading the extracts from their manifestos below (with my additional comments and annotations), how attractive an alternative they are.

What I feel is massively amiss in contemporary society and politics is morality and ethics. Our attitudes and values have been skewed by our capitalist society, and whilst caught in the rat race, we have lost sight of the importance of solidarity, community, the importance of enjoying life and being good human beings who respect each other and the environment, and recognise our social responsibilities. Blinded by the lure of monetary incentives which have caused us to regress to lifeless souls we have been commodified by the society we live in, which prioritises profit over our welfare and our happiness. We have become people without purpose. So, let’s continue.

According to their EU manifesto, the Greens will:

 

  • Oppose the privatisation of the NHS which would allow private companies to profit from the illness of citizens

Privatisation is another step in the direction of capitalism, which hasn’t served us so well in the past. In order to be reliable and effective, and truly be in the interest of the people, organisations such as the NHS need to be in the hands of the public sector and not be used for profit, but rather the promotion of our general health and well-being. For what reason would a private buyer want to purchase the NHS if not to turn a profit by gaining more customers i.e. patients? We cannot allow one of the flagship institutions of our country to be sold off to the highest bidder

  • Develop strong communities within Europe which promote the common good
  • Create a fairer tax system, in which the wealthiest contribute more and no one can dodge their responsibility and in doing so, reduce inequality

As was highlighted most recently by Thomas Picketty in his book, “Capitalism in the 21st Century”, inequality at its present-day level is unsustainable, and a more progressive tax is something that this country is in dire need of. In my view, it should be a moral and social obligation, that if you are well off, that you should contribute more, however this is apparently not the case as exemplified by the newly exposed tax-avoidance scheme which hundreds of people partook in, including the multi-millionaire, Gary Barlow. If this tax drives some wealthy individuals away to other countries then that’s fine, we don’t want you. This is not just a question of what type of economic policies that we want, but want type of society and social values that we want to promote. Progressive tax still allows for the incentive for innovation but makes a social statement towards those at the top-end. If this can work and is working, very well, in Scandinavian countries, there’s no reason that it could not work here

  • The poorest should not have to pay for a crisis they didn’t create

As we saw following the 2008 financial crisis where the largest banks in America were bailed-out to the tune of a $16 trillion, as Forbes report, by use of tax-payers money

  • Argue against deregulation and privatization

Deregulation is the hallmark of the capitalist ideology and of the libertarians. And is also exactly what caused the financial crisis

  • Recognize the vital contribution made by public services
  • Deliver investment in the infrastructure

Britain’s infrastructure, during the twentieth century, has become ever-more inefficient. In our haste to build, there was a lack of consideration and now elements such as our roads, particularly in built-up city areas, cause massive congestion which is a big problem which needs to addressing. Traffic causes further pollution and wastes thousands of peoples’ time each day which can have huge psychological implications and for their work and home life

  • Attempt to construct a sustainable economy based on renewable energies

Renewable energies are the future, there’s no doubt about that. We simply cannot continue to be reliant on foreign oil and gas when we have such massive untapped sources of potential energy, in the form of solar, wind and hydro-electricity. Through investing in these we can become more independent, more efficient and thus strengthen our economy. But again, this is a question of our values and our social agenda. We as a humans, have brought about this unquestionable effect of global warming and now we need to fix it. It is just not sustainable any further to consider fossil fuels, shale gas or even bio-fuels as an alternative. What our economy needs and our environment needs is a long-term investment in cheap, clean energy which will sustain us forever

  • End tax havens
  • Make white collar crime, including tax evasion, a higher priority for Europol
  • Phase out European Value Added Tax
  • End public fossil fuel subsidies
  • Devolve powers when necessary
  • Continue to fight to curb bankers’ bonuses
  • Break down banks until they are small enough that their failure doesn’t risk the whole economy

The general belief before the 2008 financial crisis was that the banks were “too big to fail”, however, of course, we were proved spectacularly wrong, and instead, they proved that they were just too big. We can’t continue to put our economy at the mercy of big banks and now, it’s not the risks of their investments that needs to be shared, it’s the banks themselves

  • Demand greater transparency in bank lending decisions

This will help ascertain whether bankers are making irresponsible or speculative investments and allow us to act accordingly

  • Support for policing of bank regulations to ensure that, when rules are broken, criminal bankers are arrested
  • Raise revenue for public services across the continent
  • Better regulation of volatile pension funds to secure their future well-being
  • Only oblige people to pay off debts which were accrued themselves through a fair process

How can we expect countries like Greece to grow and become more independent if their enormous debts are stifling them? It’s in the interests everyone that developing countries, who can’t even afford to repay their debts, debts which were not acquired by them but previous governments, are given a clean slate

  • Deny ratings companies the ability to hold shares in companies they rate

This is an unbelievable conflict of interest. Ratings companies should be completely impartial and neutral and work in the benefit of the consumer

  • Bring infrastructure such as water supplies, the national grid and railways back into public ownership
  • Defend the principle that public services in any EU country should be available to all EU citizens in that country
  • Change attitudes towards lower paid jobs and value contributions to society beyond turning a profit

Our attitudes towards money and our value of it have become inflated. Too often today do we over-emphasise the value of money, when, intrinsically, it has none. It has come from being just a currency of exchange, to an essential nutrient in our diet. We, have come from having a market economy, to becoming a market society, and placed the value of money, over other, more important values, and in the process, have compromised our morals and our attitudes

  • Ensure that every young person is offered a job or further training within four months of leaving permanent education (but shouldn’t be forced to accept it)
  • Combat social exclusion amongst youths
  • Crack down on blacklisting and any discrimination against workers for unionising

Unionisation should be an absolute right, and is something wholly necessary in order for workers to keep employers in check and to strive for better quality work environments and more rights. The purpose of businesses needs to be moved from creating a profit for the top-level employees and the owners, to improving the welfare of the workers who make the businesses tick

  • Support people to work the number of hours that they want to

We need to encourage the freedom of individuals and this is an excellent way to do so. No one should be constrained by work and should be free to work when they want to, and be liberated from the monotony of set work hours

  • Europe-wide maximum pay ratios for any one company
  • Ensure equal pay for equal work
  • Expand the total amount of parental leave to a total of 23 months, shared equally between parents, paid at a minimum of 90% salary which will be covered by the state up to a reasonable level for small companies

People shouldn’t be penalised or restricted for wanting to have children and both parents should have the right to see to the upbringing of their child

  • Put an end to exploitative zero-hour contracts
  • Ensure all trade deals are reversible
  • Oppose the belief that a monetary policy – which must be sensitive to economic needs and changes – should be set at a continental level

The “one-size fits all” mentality that the EU is encouraging is not realistic and needs to be opposed. It is not rational that the exact same policies should be applied to the UK and for example, Malta where our economies are vastly different and require varying strategies

  • Argue against GDP being the standard measure of economic success as it fails to take into account resource depletion and distribution of wealth
  • Investment in renewables, energy efficiency and public transport

Public transport is something that is viewed as a lower-class medium of transportation in Britain. However, in order to change this, we need to improve standards of trains and buses by investing in them, making them more reliable, more regular and turn using public transportation into the norm which benefits people and the environment

  • Set binding targets for EU emissions reductions
  • A progressively reducing cap on carbon allowances
  • Support the global share of intellectual property for technologies which help reduce carbon emissions
  • Support European super grid
  • Focus on reducing energy bills by becoming more dependent on renewable energy
  • Remove VAT from insulation and housing renovation
  • Promote walking, cycling and public transport

Huge investment needs to be made into incorporating and expanding cycle paths in city areas and try to follow the example of countries such as Denmark and Amsterdam. Cycling needs to be made safer and more accessible to everyone. More people cycling would mean healthier citizens, less strain on the NHS, less emissions, less congestion, more people to work on time and a more appealing city

  • Use rail as an alternative for transport system to lorries
  • End our reliance on other countries for national resources and instead support a reduction in consumption of natural resources and a zero waste strategy
  • Increase support for small scale farming to reduce support for agribusinesses and supermarkets
  • Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) spending to be redirected from large farms to small farms. Currently the Common Agricultural Policy makes payments based on the size of the farm, which rewards those who are already the wealthiest and to push a cap on the number of acres for which a payment can be received
  • End food poverty in Britain
  • Use of CAP payments to encourage the production of food with high nutritional, environmental and animal welfare standards and shift away from animal farming
  • Start harvesting plant based protein and oil crops
  • Incentivise schools and hospitals to buy from local suppliers
  • Break up monopolistic supermarkets
  • Encourage the reduction in consumption of meat, dairy and other animal products, with promotion and education around alternative diets

I feel that we have become too dependent on meat and do not recognise the benefits of vegetarian meals, both for our health and financially and by reducing the over-harvesting of animals

  • A clearer best before/use by food labelling system in order to reduce waste
  • Support extensive pasture based systems for farming
  • Allow suitable waste to be fed to pigs and poultry
  • End the routine preventative use of antibiotics that is threatening their effectiveness

This overuse of antibiotics has allowed bacteria to rapidly evolve resistances which is a massive threat to our health

  • Restore the ocean and continue to support scientifically-based management of EU fish stocks
  • Create an ecologically respresentative and coherent network of highly protected marine areas
  • Slow deforestation as de-forested hillsides with compact soils mean that rain water isn’t absorbed, but runs immediately into rivers and floods land and homes downstream
  • Aim to increase the biodiversity of our continent
  • Strengthen the protection of habitats through the Habitats Directive
  • Better support and enforce the protection of Natura 2000 conservation areas
  • Reintroduce formerly native species
  • Stop the EU indirectly funding bull-fighting by paying up to £110m to EU farmers who rear bulls for fighting in Spain
  • Move away from intensification and industrialisation of animal farming
  • Strive for better traceability of our food to prevent further scandals
  • Mandatory CCTV in all slaughterhouses
  • Tougher regulations on animal transportation, including maximum limit of 8 hours and an end to live export from the UK
  • An end to all animal experimentation and ensure that research funding is directed towards modern human biology-based techniques which offering greater opportunities to cure disease and improve product safety
  • Stop non-medical experiments
  • End primate research
  • Ensure implementation of data sharing with regards to animal experiments
  • Ensure that EU funding does not support companies that outsource their animal experimentation trials to countries beyond the EU
  • Provide greater funding for non-animal research methods
  • An end to the use of wild animals in circuses
  • An end to the keeping of captive whales and dolphins for commercial purposes
  • Tighter restrictions on the species that can be imported and traded
  • A fully funded EU action plan to tackle wildlife trafficking
  • An end to the keeping of wild animals as household pets
  • A review of trophy hunting and the import of wildlife trophies into the EU with a view to introduce stricter measures to end unsustainable practices
  • All European tour operators, travel affiliations and national tourist boards to adopt the Global Welfare Guidance for Animals in Tourism and to actively ensure their holiday excursions, and related activities, have a minimal impact on the welfare of animals
  • European law regulating the breeding and sale of cats and dogs, with mandatory licensing of breeders

Breeding pets has created a surplus of them by causing an over-supply of animals, but an under-supply of owners, and as a result, an ever-increasing number of animals are found on the street, taken in by charities. But because of the numbers, many are being euthanised which is not acceptable. We should discourage breeding dogs as a means for profit, and treat them with more respect as fellow beings and consider the number of homeless dogs in shelters with no owners

  • Compulsory identification by micro-chipping and registration on an appropriate harmonised database
  • Coordinated action on stray animals and legislation to ensure countries across Europe deal wth stray animals in a humane way, using programmes based on neutering and not culling

Unlike Sochi

  • Stand up to the tobacco lobby and continue to support moves to discourage smoking
  • Introduce free personal care for elderly people
  • Continue to fully support moves to end discrimination on grounds of age in healthcare
  • Support an increase in the basic state pension and the phasing in of a citizens’ pension payable to all

Every pensioner should have a pension and a means to live when they don’t have the means to work and a citizens’ pension should be a fundamental part of the welfare system

  • Advance, disseminate and share the sum of human knowledge, which gives meaning to the world and defines us as a civilisation
  • Increase funding for European Research Infrastructure
  • Leave it to academics to decide which areas of research ought to receive funding (within the bounds of ethics committees)
  • Stop dependency of academic departments on the commercial interests of private companies and initiate proper state funding for them
  • Stop the monopoly of intellectual property and make knowledge a common treasury
  • Push the EU to require that technology resulting from any EU funded research is not then allowed to be patented by private companies
  • Defend funding for the European Space Agency
  • Abolish tuition fees

Everyone should have the right to a higher education and not be burdened by its costs afterwards. Exemplified by Scandinavian countries, tuition fees should be tax-funded and should act as an incentive for more people to go into higher education and become more enlightened and improve their quality of life

  • Resist attempts to turn universities into factories for employees rather than the powerhouses of democratic intellect. Learning is for life, not just a job

Education should improve you as a person, make you more critical, more opinionated, more articulate, more independent, more confident in order to make you more successful and happier in all aspects of life, not just the work-place

  • Support programmes such as Erasmus which encourages students to study abroad during their degrees
  • Push for increased funding for these types of placements
  • Support the building of new, better insulated council houses as our houses are the worst insulated in Europe

Council houses have been given an underclass image, but in reality, are probably the way forward. By renting a house owned by the local council, it is less likely that you will be ripped off as you might be by private landlords, and reduces the need for a mortgage loan which can stifle you financially for the rest of your life

  • Support moves to protect those who have been trafficked into Europe, rather than victimising them further
  • Implement measures to ensure that future whistleblowers are able to apply for protection in EU member states for revealing abuse of the human rights of EU citizens
  • Take action against school bullying
  • More funding for sexual health services
  • Doesn’t say much about cuts, where’s the money going to come from?
  • Recognise the importance of unpaid labour, such as care and housework through unconditional basic income
  • Continue to support a women’s right to choose to have an abortion
  • Oppose public service and welfare cuts
  • Work for better accessibility of transport services and infrastructure
  • Protect the right to live and die in dignity
  • Make proactive efforts to engage children in decision-making
  • Continue to argue for the EU to be a secular institution whilst recognising Europe’s multi-faith history
  • Push for assurances that where constituent nations of member states vote to become independent states, their governments will be permitted to remain within the EU at least until the completion of negotiations of the terms
  • Highlight the issue that 80% of stakeholders appointed to the Commission represent corporate interests
  • Increase the power of the European Parliament to initiate legislation and to monitor and force transparency in the activities of the Council of Ministers and the Commission and thereby, make the EU more democratic
  • Ensure that legislation when produced is as clear and unambiguous as possible so that politics becomes more attractive to the public and can ensure more public involvement and understanding
  • Devolve powers over areas that ought not be a European competency
  • Oppose endless centralisation of power into Europe and the mission to become a super-state
  • End the rotation between Brussels and Strasbourg parliaments
  • Lower the voting age in European elections to 16
  • Develop a mandatory register of lobbyists for all areas of the EU
  • Ensure campaign finance transparency
  • Ensure better access to information on EU expenditure
  • Push for the repeal of the Data Retention Directive, which compels telecommunications companies to keep a raft of personal date on European citizens
  • Support legislation that promotes and protects rights of citizens to privacy. This includes empowering us to proactively decide if and how our personal data are processed
  • Support legislation that prevents oppressive regimes from acquiring surveillance and censorship technology and services from any entity in the EU
  • Move away from militarisation of the EU
  • Support the creation of a European Peace Corps to allow for civilian peace-building and disaster response efforts at time of crisis
  • Ban landmines and cluster bombs from the EU
  • Oppose the sale of military technology, including arms and surveillance technology, to oppressive regimes, and campaign for much stricter regulation of the arms trade
  • Work towards the establishment of a court in which transnational companies can be tried and held accountable
  • Ensure activists for democracy and equality are granted refugee status within the EU if they request it
  • Continue to support increased aid budgets and the autonomy of the peoples of developing countries in choosing how to use it

 

The whole purpose of politics is to change society for the common good, and to bring about that change, I feel that we need a change in our government and our international representation. If their manifesto is anything to go by, the Greens have ambitions to improve society, and with the help of your vote, you can facilitate that. If you’re frustrated by political stagnation, and by the state of our broken society, then support the Greens, it’s not a wasted vote.

 

Link

Find out which party you really support!

Find Out Which Party You Really Support!

http://voteforpolicies.org.uk/

This is a very useful and interesting website, funded by The Guardian, which allows you to view a list of six different policy sets and then choose which one you agree with the most, without knowing which party those policies belong to, and do the same thing for 9 different topics varying from the economy, the environment to education. When you’re finished, you’ll see the results of which party’s policies you tend to favour, plus, how your results compare with the rest of the people in your constituency who’ve also taken the test.

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