The Second World War Is Our Past, Not Our Present

Milkman blitz.jpg
Photo Credit: Reddit

I was only a young boy when Winston Churchill was voted “The Greatest Briton” of all history by an adoring public, and at the time it seemed perfectly natural. Even today, over five decades since his death, he towers over this nation, dominating our collective psychological landscape for one simple ‘reason’: he led us to victory during the Second World War.

Never mind his appalling overseeing of the Gallipoli campaign during the First World War that left 46,000 Allied soldiers dead, his (egregious) brutality and racism whilst conducting colonial affairs that led one peer to claim “Winston only thinks about the colour of their skin” or his support for the forced sterilisation of swathes of the British public. All that mattered to average participant in the vote was the Second World War.

If there is one thing that is fused to the British cultural landscape like burnt rice to the bottom of a saucepan, it is the Second World War.  There is no “Don’t Mention The War!” in our vocabulary of common reference points; it’s all Dad’s Army and Keep Calm And Carry On instead. When German exchange students visited my school- we were about 15/16 years old at the time- they were asked if they “had ever heard of a Spitfire” and people shouted “Heil Hitler” at them before running down the corridor in an act of cowardice nearly as embarrassing as the previous deed. The refrain “Two World Wars and One World Cup” is recognisable to us all.

If I haven’t laboured the point enough, I invite you to occasionally look at the comment sections to online newspaper articles. The further right-wing the better. There will be someone talking about the War in some way, clamouring that our forefathers didn’t charge onto the beaches of Normandy only for ‘po-faced liberal civil servants’ to tell us that we can no longer sell Gollywogs or some other highly contentious melange of bollocks and bullshit like that. Frustratingly, I cannot find the article amongst dozens about the terrible flooding in the North of England and Scotland this winter in which a woman decided that their conditions were akin to those during those long 6 years of conflict. Expect more of the same with the upcoming referendum on EU membership (an organisation by which we proud and courageous Britons are inextricably tied to those formerly aggressive Krauts and pathetically yellow-bellied French, of course).

The legacy of the Second World War amongst the British people is remarkable and yet rarely scrutinised. It is both sad and odd that we revel in a conflict that claimed the lives of 55 million people, witnessed the most heinous act of systematic genocide in history and claims the unenviable prize of the only war in which nuclear weapons have been actually used. We, in our sanitised stupor, seem incapable of coming to terms with the fact that, whilst many a brave Londoner did huddle on the platform of Piccadilly Circus, so many others were pulverised or incinerated in their own homes. Nor was everyone gallant and patriotic: criminals thrived in the chaos of the Blitz and the Blackout was a perfect environment for attempted sexual assault. It is safe to say that none but the most bellicose or questionable would want for us to return to a time like that, and, were such a dreadful episode to happen now, then we wouldn’t suddenly all be cheerily donning tin hats and gas mask boxes, ready for another round of being the ‘plucky underdog’.

Nonetheless, so many of us, especially those who never saw a day before 1945, believe that our victory (which definitely had more to do with the US, USSR and the heroic efforts of all occupied nations) marks the political, cultural and moral zenith of our nation’s history. Our ‘Finest Hour’. Aside from the xenophobia and awful politicisation of the sacrifice of so many lives towards often irrelevant and trivial political ends that this opinion has caused, our persistent gaze to those heady days when windows were criss-crossed with sticky tape and place names painted over has helped manufacture a narrative of decline from the moment peace was declared. We don’t celebrate nearly enough the abolition of the death penalty, decriminalisation of homosexuality, the Equal Pay Act or creation of the welfare state, because these events happened as people grew soft, fat and corrupted- not at all like back in 1940 when men were men, everyone spoke English and people took responsibility for their actions. And, as a result, institutions that objectively are of much greater benefit to our national livelihood, such as the NHS, are under threat whilst the rose-tinted memories of slaughter and hardship remain sacrosanct.

No one is saying that we should be ashamed of the Second World War, or that there were not thousands of acts of courage, humanity and kindness as the world was engulfed by terror and bloodshed. However, it is time that we seriously review whether those 6 years are really the watershed moment of the British nation and its people, the moment that we showed the best of who we are as a nation. War should define neither our global outlook nor our notions of identity to the extent that it currently does, especially when it is patent how insular and arrogant the perspectives that it informs often can be. There are plenty of khaki uniforms and decommissioned rifles in museums across the country and, whilst we may regard them with venerable respect and thanksgiving for the dedication of many who once owned them, it is in a museum and not the baggage of our everyday national consciousness that they belong.


To Call Corbyn “Unelectable” is to Misunderstand the Modern Voter

Not as “unelectable” as you may think. Photo Credit: The Daily Telegraph

Each of the Labour Party leadership candidates has had pejorative traits and labels applied to them over the course of the contest, the voting of which is now under way. Liz Kendall is apparently a Tory. Andy Burnham is nice but unprincipled. Yvette Cooper is some sort of rehashed Ed Balls. Jeremy Corbyn is hard-left in nearly enough about every article there is about him.

And, according to Alastair Campbell and many others besides, he’s unelectable.

The reasoning behind this particular accusation and the pessimism of many in the Labour ranks regarding Corbyn’s chances of walking through the door of Number 10 is supporting by two principal pillars. The first is the notorious performance of Michael Foot’s socialist Labour Party in the 1983 election. Comparisons between Corbyn’s and Foot’s visions are hardly rare, and neither are the implicit predictions of Labour’s chances in 2020 as a result.

The second pillar is the equally-notorious performance of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party last May. This particular Miliband, viewed by many as on the soft left and who aimed to drag the party back from the exhausted and tarnished brand of New Labour, also suffered a comprehensive rejection at the ballot box. Since then, the conventional diagnosis of such a disastrous showing has been that voters did not trust Labour with the economy following the condition that they left public finances in 2010. Ed Miliband’s refusal to admit that Labour overspent did little to restore voter confidence, and subsequent research in the aftermath of the election does indicate a lack of appetite amongst the electorate for anti-austerity politics. This is the kind of politics which Corbyn espouses as he outlines deficit reduction through a long-term plan in which cuts in public finances play no role.

The cry of the Kendallites, for whom restoring economic credibility with the voters via fiscal responsibility (i.e. austerity) is absolutely key, seems reasonable.

However, the UK Polling Report published an article in the last few days which questions the logic upon which the notion of Corbyn’s unelectability is founded. It cited a YouGov poll that first found that there was substantial backing amongst voters for policies such as the renationalisation of the railways and a top rate tax of 60%, both of which would fall squarely into Corbyn’s political comfort zone. However, perhaps more importantly, the same poll also uncovered similar levels of support for far-right policies such as a total ban of immigration or the abolition of international aid. A conclusion drawn from these results was:

voters themselves don’t necessarily see things as ideologically left and right and specific policies aren’t really that important in driving votes. However, broad perceptions of a party, its perceived competence and the public’s views on how suitable its leader is to be Prime Minister are incredibly important.

I think it appropriate to be a little bolder than that: the modern British electorate is post-ideological in its voting patterns. This is not as surprising as it may first seem when one considers that many of the traditional categories of identity in the UK have blurred together or been completely broken down in the past 50 years. The decline of practiced Christianity has removed the historic link between Nonconformism and the Labour Party or Anglicanism and the Tories. Deindustrialisation, the decline of union membership and the increase of those who consider themselves middle class have diminished the notion of a rigid class system along with its ramifications on political support. The administrations of Thatcher and Blair, which saw low-income workers in council houses voting Conservative and executives in financial services voting Labour, are particularly indicative of how fluid the allegiances of the modern electorate have become.The great electoral blocs of our grandparents’ generations- underpinned by class division- have splintered, manifest in the proliferation of parties now represented at Westminster and in the national parliaments and assemblies.

To fill this ideological void, especially when there is substantial overlap in the political philosophies of the current UK parties, elections have become narrative-dependent events. Consider the Conservative Party platform in 2015. The Tories did not try to win over the electorate through convincing them that free markets and a small government provided the most efficient route to prosperity and freedom. They presented austerity as a regrettable necessity, rather than a option to be advocated, owing to Labour’s purported mishandling of public finances in the final years of the New Labour Era. And therein, in that narrative of Labour’s incompetence and maladministration, was the real vote-winner. The fact that “austerity” is of questionable intellectual value, propped up by a dubious conflation of national and household economics, and that it disproportionately harms many of those who would proceed to vote for its continuation, was neither here nor there. The point was that the narrative was good, and the narrative stuck. The persistent idea of the treachery of the Liberal Democrats over tuition fees, despite the arguable merits of their ideology and relative effectiveness in office, condemned them to infamous oblivion at the ballot box. One of the cornerstones of the SNP’s appeal across Scotland in the run-up to the general election was had nothing to do with modern nationalism, but everything to do with the sentiment that Labour had abandoned many of its Scottish voters. This was a sentiment that the SNP was more than happy to capitalise on. In each of these instances, voters were not engaging with parties ideologically, but instead treating each of them as a product to be advertised and sold to them by the most proficient marketer.

The triumph of narrative over ideology, the disintegration of traditional voting blocs and the caprice of an electorate prepared to back both radical left and radical right policies without perceiving any contradiction renders the accusation of Corbyn’s unelectability debateable. Voters no longer respond to labels such as “socialist” or “hard-left” in the way that they did in 1983, nor did they reject Ed Miliband’s bid for office because of his apparent position on the traditional, one-dimensional political spectrum. Provided that Corbyn can create and present a convincing enough counter-narrative that challenges Cameron’s Conservatives, then there is every chance that he could win over voters, both natural and unnatural to Labour and from every corner of the union. Meanwhile- in an effort to regain “economic credibility”- as Andy Burnham apologies for Labour’s financial record during its last term in office and Liz Kendall backs Tory cuts to welfare, they only buy into the perceptions that persuaded the people of the UK to reject their party in May. It is those who are complicit with what their opponents say about them who find themselves on the losing side.

When Is a Lion Not a Lion? When It’s an Unwanted Distraction

A great lion. But a great cause? Photo credit: The Independent
A great lion. But a great cause? Photo credit: The Independent

This week was no shorter than any other of unsettling news about the state of our nation. Hundreds of prospective migrants desperately stormed the Channel Tunnel, with one dead as a result. The death toll of British citizens so disfranchised and so disengaged with our society that they have left to join Islamist militant groups fighting in the Middle East has reached 50. The Social Mobility and Child Poverty Commission published a report detailing that less academically able children from wealthier backgrounds are still more likely proceed to earn more than their brighter, poorer compatriots.

And yet, amongst continued revelations that on our doorstep there is despair and anguish, loathing and terror, inequality and injustice, what captured the hearts and souls of thousands in this country? A lion. Albeit a very important lion hunted illegally. But a lion- in Zimbabwe- nonetheless.

The story of Cecil the Lion, shot by an American dentist, has ignited fury beyond expectation. I cannot conceive how many Facebook posts decrying the brutality and unfairness of the killer must have been posted in the last few days. I cannot conceive the hatred felt for Dr Palmer, the disgust and the fury. I cannot conceive the force of the moral tempest whipped up by those who are hashtagging “#wearececil”. We are outraged by the death of an animal in a faraway land at the hands of someone from a different foreign country to the point that many of us forget our own civilised nature and wish the death penalty on the perpetrator of the killing. Meanwhile, the poorest children in our own back garden quietly starve, bereft not only of sustenance to which their humanity surely entitles them, but also of the attention of the vocal, self-appointed, so-called “compassionate” classes who fill the Guardian comment sections and our social media newsfeeds. No wonder David Cameron, an architect of the punitive welfare reforms and rigid socio-economic stratification which causes such hardship, is more than willing to prolong the obfuscating Cecil furore by contributing his own tuppence-worth. Compassionate Conservatism extends to African beasts but not to British families trapped in poverty. Animal rights trump human dignity.

Even in a week's time the poor will still be hungry. Photo credit: Huffington Post
Even in a week’s time the poor will still be hungry. Photo credit: Huffington Post

A soul more generous than mine would perhaps venture that the widespread condemnation of Cecil’s killing is simply a symptom of something bigger: a final, great awakening of the developed world to the postcolonial hangover of destruction their fellow Westerners wreak upon lands they once dominated. First the the lions of Zimbabwe, next the planet and the people still suffering from the result of centuries of empire and unfettered global capitalism. However, the generous soul is also the more foolish in this situation. A primary reason why Cecil has attracted so much posthumous support is because it is easy to offer it. There is next to nothing that any of us in Britain can positively contribute to the problem of illegal game-hunting in the south of Africa, so all there is to do is beat the moral drum loudly for a few days before sinking back into quietude and oblivion until the next insoluble outrage to shout about surfaces. And no one seriously thinks that Cecil should have been hunted down, or that Dr Palmer is a great man for firing the fatal shot, so any opposition is nigh on non-existent. It is all far more convenient than, yet just as satisfying as, considering how to help to resolve tricky and divisive social or economic issues that are more insidious and immediate to us.

Remember “#kony2012” anyone?

Most animals are cute from a distance of six and a half thousand miles, and killing them illegally, especially when they are endangered and emblematic, is wrong. That is undisputed and the perpetrator of the act will face the consequences of that unanimity of opinion. However, we, especially those of us who proudly wear the badge of “liberal” or “progressive” do ourselves and those whom our sentiments and values are supposed to serve an embarrassing disservice by obsessing over Cecil. For he has ceased to be a lion, and now has become a passing shadow, pushing into obscurity all the graver injustices around which we must rally.

The Problem at the Heart of our Democracy: the Voter

“Outside the hall in which the meeting was being held a large crowd of poverty-stricken Liberal working men, many of them wearing broken boots and other men’s cast-off clothing, was waiting to hear the report of the slave-drivers’ deputation, and as soon as Sweater had consented to be nominated, Didlum rushed and opened the window overlooking the street and shouted the good news down to the crowd, which joined in the cheering.”  

– The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists, Robert Tressell (1914)

Amongst the fallout following the General Election nigh on three weeks ago, one of the loudest calls for those of a reforming mindset has been for electoral reform. This is in light of a Conservative majority secured by only 39.6% of the vote, SNP domination north of the border and UKIP and Green disappointment south of it. The Electoral Reform Society has seen a petition for a change from First Past the Post to a more proportional system (and theirs is only one of many such online campaigns) already accrue nearly 140,000 signatures. Others are already looking ahead to 2020, suggesting that proposed boundary changes is an act of gerrymandering that will hand the Conservatives a significant advantage next election.

However, when it comes to electoral reform, fewer people, especially the average person on the street who may talk about PR or constituency reviews, want to consider reforming the voter. This is curious, as a nation can establish the most perfectly representative electoral system imaginable but if their electorate is as downtrodden, apathetic and under-informed as ours in the UK is, then all that hard work will still produce undesirable results. It is not fashionable, nor politically advisable, to pin any kind of blame or onus for a certain outcome on the voter, but that is the case in Britain in 2015, and anyone who truly believes in democracy should seek to remedy that. We have to ask ourselves if an engaged, informed and socially aware population would have allowed a party that has overseen a huge rise in the reliance on foodbanks, a slump in living standards unseen in decades and fiscal policy of austerity condemned by two thirds of economists to return office undiluted by coalition.

Voter apathy, ensuring that turnout at general elections has not risen above 70% since 1997, is not just dangerous for the overall goal of democracy, but it results in a skewed advantage for parties which favour the wealthier owing to a marked correlation between financial anxiety and voter inactivity. Constituencies up and down the country with high levels of deprivation, especially in the South and Midlands of England, voted in Conservative MPs whose agenda has precious little to benefit the impoverished. Turnout was lowest in the poorest seats, giving the parties elected there less credibility than they could otherwise deserve. Fortunately, the remedy to this issue is straightforward and at least notionally familiar: compulsory voting.

Compulsory voting would reduce voter apathy both in the practical sense of increasing turnout and the psychological sense of preventing eligible voters from shutting out all political discourse from their lives on the grounds that they simply cannot be bothered to vote or because they have decided spontaneously that “all of them are the same” (comparing David Cameron to Alex Salmond or Dennis Skinner is enough to bust that myth). What it does though is throw them into the deep-end of politics and current affairs along with the rest of the electorate. Opponents to compulsory voting protest that it takes away an individual’s right to not vote, although this is clearly nonsense: plenty of ballot papers are spoilt every election, and the inclusion of a “none of the above” option is always possible. Once in a voting booth with the power of a cross at their fingertips, those who hitherto profess apathy would be given the chance to scrutinise their decision and consider whether it is still truly their position on democracy. Online voting would resolve the issue of unforeseen emergency circumstances that remove a voter from their constituency obstructing their new obligation. The penalty of a fine for evading the vote would further discourage those from less fortunate socio-economic brackets from disengaging on election day.

However, 100% (or thereabouts) turnout means nothing if the voter is incapable of making an informed decision. In fact, it would only serve to amplify that incapability further. Herein lies the more deep-seated and more firmly-rooted problem with the electorate in the UK: it is grossly misinformed, underinformed and difficult to re-inform. Work by the Royal Statistical Society in 2013 revealed the alarming degree to which the perceptions of the British population about issues such as immigration, crime and benefit fraud- some of the most emotive policy areas of the last election- are wrong. It is impossible to accept that voters will choose the policies that are the best for their country and for them as employees, parents, business owners, welfare claimants or any combination of such if the facts, or the opinions of the most qualified experts, are not delivered to them.

Nowhere was this more apparent in the last election than in the debate surrounding Labour’s fiscal legacy and the Conservative-led response to it. Time and again, the Conservatives conflated household microeconomics and nation state macroeconomics despite the fact that the two work very differently. Government debt is perfectly normal and manageable, and it is the kind of private debt encouraged by financial deregulation which voters should be wary of. Despite this, the Tory narrative (and their seemingly logical solution of retrenchment) stuck, and Osborne’s promise in 2010 to see that “like every solvent household in the country, that what we buy, we can afford, that the bills we incur we have the income to meet” sounded remarkably similar to the attack from one voter on Ed Miliband as he compared the government running a deficit to being able to buy a pint even without sufficient money at the end of the week. The Conservative Party managed to triumph with a blatant blurring of the boundaries between two separate economic realms because they employed a concept that related to the average voter’s narrower sphere of reference. Even a Nobel Prize-winning economist was not going to change that.

This illustrates the greatest cause and sticking point of voter misinformation: voters are often unable to grasp the ideas that lie at the most abstract or ‘macro’ end of the spectrum, those which often defy what would seem to be ‘common sense’. Immigrants are causing a net economic loss by straining our public services, people on benefits are lazy and scroungers, making those wealthier at the top will see prosperity for all eventually, poverty for one is rightful gain for another, outlawing drugs is the best way to stop them being an issue. All seem like perfect comprehensible, straightforward ideas and processes that voters can easily grasp at, process within the framework of their experiences and then hold onto in the face of more nuanced and ultimately sensible yet intellectually-heavy counterarguments. Consider long working hours that leave little time and energy for thorough self-information and a lot of motivation for selfish introspection, teachers mercilessly harried by the goal of government targets rather than inspired by the goal of creating critical and aware citizens, and a right-wing press that dominates print and online fora (peddling the same ‘common sense’ as the right-wing politicians) and it is utterly unsurprising that we, as an electorate, especially those of us from less affluent backgrounds, are in this position of severe information deprivation. We are like the decorators of Tressell’s The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists: time and again cheated by the system of Edwardian free market economics, yet time and again defending that system whilst looking to our obfuscating newspapers and underhand, untruthful ‘betters’ for guidance.

The challenge of resolving voter misinformation, indeed ignorance, is far more difficult, especially when people begin to fall into the trap of equating the equality of each vote to the equality of the opinion of each voter. A politician cannot simply stand up and tell millions of people that they are probably wrong about most things, that they have either been duped or are frankly unable to properly understand the truth. Nor is the quixotic idea of introduce eligibility tests that are grounded in political, social and economic awareness advisable, as the better off who are bound to be- generally- better educated (if not necessarily more socially concerned) would at first dominate the electoral register in a way unseen since 1867. However, fighting for the expansion of the BBC as the only outlet capable to disseminating impartial reporting on a wide-ranging scale and  supporting the break-up of media empires, which are monolithic in their editorial stances and often underpinned by big business, would be a start. It is unsurprising that the current government is against either of those propositions. The inclusion of a proper ‘citizen education’ in  the state school curriculum that goes beyond the effects of smoking and how to write a CV and instead touches upon elections, economics and abstract reasoning would also be welcome. Combine these with a renewed engagement in politics resulting from the establishment of PR and compulsory voting, and maybe this nation will get closer to the goal of a better democracy founded on better voters.

We as a country lay claim to the “Mother of All Parliaments”, yet we as a country have an appalling record of sending those who have our best interests and the best idea of how to benefit the people as a whole to represent us within it. We need to break the myth that the voter is sacred and everything around him or her is broken, and instead recognise that the solution to policies that cheat us and politicians that lie to us does not principally lie anywhere else but within us.

Five Reasons to NOT vote Tory this 7th May

It’s understandable. We’ve probably all been there: sitting at our computers, reading the newspaper, maybe, dangerously, fiddling with the biro in the voting booth and had that nagging thought, “Maybe I should vote Conservative…”. I myself, who was a member of the Conservative Party for around 3 years, campaigned for them in an important marginal in 2010 and voted for them in council elections in 2013, know this curious sensation all too well.

However, this election, there can be no place for slip-ups and follies of this sort. It is too close to call and  every vote counts. So, for all of those who look back on the past 5 years and wonder if Cameron and his team are worth a second chance- an opportunity to “finish the job”- here are 5 reasons not to vote Tory.

1- A programme of austerity was vital in 2010, and has been instrumental in securing the UK’s economic recovery. This is the most dangerous lie that supporters of the Conservative Party deploy when defending the past government’s record. They cry that the kind of mindless, socialist profligacy that invariably taints Labour governments brought UK public finances to the brink of oblivion, and that only a severe cutback of spending had the potential to rectify this egregious situation. Otherwise, who knows, London may have become the next Athens! They praise Osborne’s toughness, his rectitude and wisdom that led him to do what was economically sound, and now we can bask in the glory of 0.3% growth in GDP on the eve of the election. It’s slow progress, but apparently better than what a less firm administration could have delivered. This is all utterly ridiculous. George Osborne may not have been an economist at any point of his life, but Robert Skidelsky and Paul Krugman both are acclaimed in the field, and both have demonstrated convincingly that there was no real macroeconomically sensible case for austerity, and that far from ensuring the recovery, government cuts have retarded it so thoroughly that it may well have cost every UK citizen an unnecessary £1500 as a result. Furthermore, Skidelsky illustrates that the current Labour government was by no means outrageously wasteful, and that the leap in national debt under their watch was as a result of their bailouts for failed banks (the supposed saviours of our economy, if any Tory is to be believed). Conservative-led austerity has been an ideologically-driven experiment that has gravely harmed the country, lacerating it to its breaking point. And yet it is an experiment to which it will continue to subject this nation and its citizens if re-elected into office, mutilating a postwar state that has proudly (and sustainably) maintained the livelihoods of everyone born within it.

2. Conservative-led welfare cuts have justly penalised scroungers and protected those who want to “get on in life”. Using one of the most cringeworthy phrases in the lexis of modern British politics (followed closely by the “global race” paradigm), apologists for the outgoing government have pointed to their record in the DWP to defend the Tory pretence of being committed to working families. Okay, so Universal Credit may be one of the most lamentable failures of this government, but- so the narrative goes- at least it’s making work pay and giving those scroungers what they deserve for parasitically sucking the lifeblood of the state. If, of course, you ignore the fact that a record number hardworking families trapped in low-paid, low-hours contracts have slid into poverty during the past 5 years, suffering more than the intended aim of these welfare cuts as working tax credits are slashed. Analysis of food bank users in the borough of Wandsworth- hardly an atypical corner of Britain- reveals that nearly a quarter of those resorting to philanthropy simply in order to feed themselves and their families do so because of insufficient wages. And who are these scroungers being rightfully punished anyway? The 53-year old mother, whose children had recently moved out of their home, who committed suicide after being threatened with docked benefits because of the bedroom tax? The 54-year-old with a osteoporosis, emphysema, asthma and a digestive condition, resorting to payday loansharks as her disability benefits are hacked away? The jobseekers, who are not loafing around with their blinds drawn as Osborne would have you believe, are in actual fact forced to resort to foodbanks to keep their families fed? The whole narrative of “shirkers v. workers”, those on benefits against those earning an honest day’s pay, is so riddled with falsehood and deceit at every point that it is tantamount to slander against those battling to survive at the bottom of the pile in our society. This Conservative-led government has punctured gaping holes into our much-vaunted safety net, allowing the desperate and disabled to slip through into the abyss of deprivation and destitution. The Conservative Party, gearing themselves up to cut another £12 billion from the welfare budget, without touching the £74 billion spent on the state pension, will tear such holes to new extremes, allowing thousands upon thousands more of our most vulnerable countrymen and women to be unjustly swallowed by poverty.

3. But the outgoing government has secured over a million new jobs? The boast from the Conservative Party that they have helped create 1.9 million private sector jobs is as deceptive as their claims on welfare. The illusion is that these fall under the bracket of sustainable, meaningful employment that can support an individual if not a family. Notwithstanding the fact that at least 196,000 of these jobs were conjured up by a simple trick of reclassification, hundreds of thousands of workers have entered a trap of low-wage, low-hours jobs that are barely something that a party which has placed so much emphasis on their recent unemployment record could be proud about. 60% of those who gained employment in 2014 did so through taking up positions that do not pay the living wage and instead promised a horribly substandard minimum wage that does not guarantee even basic living standards. Hundreds of thousands of other jobs have been ‘created’ through more and more workers, often those laid off through the swinging cuts imposed on our public services owing to the thoughtless and ideological application of austerity, registering as self-employed as opposed to necessarily finding other gainful employment. This constitutes a move which the labour market specialist for the Bank of England himself labelled as “often a last resort of desperation”. It is small wonder than despite this apparent jobs ‘miracle’, in-work poverty is rife and living standards for many hardworking families still showing little indication of recovering. With such poor hours and wages, there is the obvious problem that the same individual could be double or even triple-counted in employment statistics as he or she takes on multiple positions in order to keep financially afloat. The success which people attribute to the outgoing government in the fields of jobs is a façade, and a flimsy, tawdry one at that. And is there any provision within the Tory manifesto for lifting people out of these grossly insufficient posts? Any guarantee of substantially raising the minimum wage to better match a figure that will afford even the poorest worker dignity and security? Of course not. There is but more fanfare about jobs, with little insight into what these jobs might consist of, what they might pay, how secure and dignifying they might be.

4/5. Nonetheless, the Conservative Party enables wealth creation for the richest, which in turn benefits the whole of society. Moving away from this specific government’s record into the realms of more general ideological arguments for supporting the Conservative Party that I have encountered, one of the most prevalent is the notion that in propagating and perpetuating the wealth of the rich the rest eventually profit through living in a more prosperous nation. The affluent spend, which in turn encourages employment and, with more in work, tax receipts rise. So the theory goes. But the reality? After nearly 40 years of the application of this model, the poor are relatively poorer whilst the opulence of the rich has skyrocketed, with wealth inequality in the UK higher than the average for OECD countries and approaching a level commensurate with the United States. Wealth has not ‘trickled down’ in any sense, not least because the most wealthy in the UK seem to be reticent in paying taxes due to the Treasury. It’s not even as if, as some venture, these levels of inequality are profitable for a society, encouraging people to work harder in order to climb the ladder to the top where they may then enjoyed their well-deserved riches. With greater inequality social mobility grinds to a halt as privileges, connections and opportunities are shored up at the top of society, leaving little for the rest to grasp at regardless of how hard they may work. What occurs is a complete inversion, indeed perversion, of the original ideal, as those born into privilege need not work nearly as hard as their compatriots from more modest backgrounds in order to secure the same level of ‘success’. Who knows how many deserving candidates have had their aspirations stifled by this absurd system that can only be justified through noxious and antiquated notions of entitlement? Who can truly quantify the misery and distressed caused as a result of the startling, unforgiving, intransigent levels of inequality in this country? For economies with a vastly disparate spectrum of wealth and incomes perform neither as economically nor as socially well as their more egalitarian counterparts. We all lose out as a result of inequality; not just the poor, but everyone. And who will strive to reverse this pernicious trend that has left a Britain broken? Would it be the Conservative Party, with their proposed income tax cut for the highest earners, increase in the threshold for inheritance tax and retention of the non-domicile status that cheats the Treasury out of billions of pounds every year? There’s a greater chance of Nigel Farage defecting to the Green Party.

The 7th May is likely to produce a confused outcome, with no clear winner and a plethora of potential combinations for coalition or minority governments. But it is with your vote that you can secure one certainty: the cessation of governance by the Conservative Party, the cessation of the misery it has wreaked upon the poor, disabled and vulnerable, the cessation of the lies that it has unashamedly peddled to a population which entrusted them with office, the cessation of the imposition of its philosophy, flawed to the point of rotten, onto national policy. As current polls suggest, it is still a difficult battle to be won, but is one which is vital. Be mindful of these 5 reasons, and there are far more besides, for you have the opportunity to play your role in seeing that a Britain that is teetering on the brink of ruin is recovered, retrieved to pastures safe and bountiful.

Can We All Calm Down About the ‘War on Religion’?

Don't worry: he's not going anywhere soon. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph.
Don’t worry: he’s not going anywhere soon. Photo credit: The Daily Telegraph.

Today, I had the experience of reading a hysterical and hyperbolic article in the right-wing press. It was an experience which I deem unsurprising, but still worthy of exploring, because it highlighted one of the most absurd ideas in circulation amongst the more conservative members of the Western world: the ‘war on religion’.

The article, a piece by Cristina Odone in the Daily Telegraph, chillingly proclaimed that “Europe is becoming a no God zone”, presumably playing on the recent obsession of similarly right-wing pundits with the alleged ‘no-go zones’ of Europe, where Islam has apparently pushed out all forms of liberal civilisation. In the wake of a tragic attack on a Kosher store in Paris, the main argument was that secularist governments would be more at ease with advising the religious to practise in secret, unable to guarantee the safety of adherents of one faith from extremists in another. Then a comment was thrown in about the Trojan Horse affair in Birmingham schools last summer at the end, and how that had convinced teachers that it is better to ignore religion as a subject in its entirety than to educate their classes anything about it. The overall sentiment was that religion would soon be swept off the streets of Europe in an attempt to maintain public order.

I wonder if Cristina Odone, for all her journalistic pretensions, has dared switch the news on in the last couple of days, when the Prime Minister of her own country, and leader of the party her newspaper supports, declared himself publicly to be a Christian who is, understandably, unsettled when Christian images are mocked. She laments that Charlie Hebdo refused to approve of the tolling of the bells of Notre Dame de Paris in memory of its murdered satirists, but what would she expect from a radical-left French publication that is daring to defy its religious assailants in the edition it released today? Sudden deference to the Roman Catholic Church?

In reality, barely anyone is suggesting that the answer to the current problems with religious extremism is to push all religions underground or for the faithful to drop their convictions in a flash. Odone my decry Salman Rushdie’s position on the matter, but you can hardly berate a man who has had a fatwa declared against him for his opinion that religion is a “mediaeval form of reason”. If I woke up tomorrow to find that the Archbishop of Canterbury was assembling a crusade to purge the world of Philip Pullman, then I might wish to reconsider my own Anglican sympathies.

And why would governments fear a crisis of public order if differing religious sects were to continue to worship openly? Nearly everyone of a religious disposition in the West, despite their occasional eccentricity and predilection for somewhat archaic values, is law-abiding and ultimately secular in the sense that they peaceably accept that there are people of other beliefs around them. They may think they’re wrong or all going to suffer eternity in the inferno, but that does not provoke them to go on a criminal rampage with a Kalashnikov. In fact, the reason why anyone did that in the first place may not have much to do with religion at all, but instead with frustration with the socio-economic plight of many Muslims as a cultural group in France, a frustration easily hijacked by radicalism.

Of course, Odone, hailing from the right-wing, cannot bear to face the idea that the answer may be state intervention of a fiscal nature. No, instead she wants to see the police and army posted outside Jewish schools to prevent anti-Semitic attacks. Because that will help to prevent Muslims feeling even more victimised and mistrusted by the state. Perhaps we could ask our American cousins how the widespread employment of firearms has helped to solve their problems with criminal violence? The fact that a large proportion of the Jewish peoples of the Western world feel threatened is an obvious concern and one that should be addressed, but not by something so reactionary and inflammatory as offering them militarised protection. In fairness to Odone, she does also fly the flag for religious education in schools in order to fight ignorance. Not that it is a particularly threatened subject in the UK, especially with a government that sent a copy of the King James Bible to every school in 2011, but I’m neither churlish nor ideological enough to deny her credit for that.

There is no war against religion. Most people who personally have no heavenly inclination accept it as something to be tolerated, even supported in the name of freedom of expression. Furthermore, even governments are intelligent (or electorally aware) enough to understand the ramifications of suppressing religious expression or defending the expression of one particular one with state resources. Of course, where Odone may be getting all confused is the difference between governments which are not as explicitly theocratic as they once were (back when blasphemy was a crime and non-Anglicans were barred from Oxbridge) and governments which see religion as politically unimportant. Or maybe she was just trying to find a useful way to plug her ebook on a similar topic, which she mentioned in her article…

The article can be read here:

What Is To Become of the Nation State?

Nation States II

In the forthcoming months, an awful lot of people will be discussing the UK, its parliament and its laws. The tenure of the present administration is coming to an end, and soon enough there will be a new (although not necessarily different) government making legislation on behalf of us, the British people. At this time, when the direction of this country and the policies that will guide it that way becomes the paramount topic, it is interesting to ponder just what the nature of the nation states of the world in the 21st Century is and, therefore, what the object of the government within it and the laws they make should be.

When nation states first came into being, what defined their boundaries and made them functional may have been factors as diverse as economics, logistics, culture, religious beliefs, geography, conquests or language, but what actually legitimised them as ‘states’ was that everyone living within those borders recognised a body of authority and the laws it passed. The degree to which each polity could acknowledge a political ruler who was situated within it and the independence with which that ruler could legislate and mete out justice determined the polity’s ‘statehood’. Hence the tensions across Europe once the Papacy began to acquire temporal power, or the fact that, through the system of vassalage, England could be a nation state but be ruled by an individual who became the notional subordinate of the King of France once he crossed The Channel into a territory like the Duchy of Normandy.

Furthermore, the other, practical building blocks of a nation state- for example, the economy, the judiciary, defence- could all be viably controlled by laws within those nations. Despite the obvious presence of international trade throughout history, economies in history have generally been localised enough to be viable without cross-border cooperation or reliance on the economic condition of other polities. Even with the judicial pretensions of the Papacy during the High Middle Ages and beyond (which generated a messy and confusing struggle between national and super-national governments as opposed to the concession of power from the former to the latter), monarchs were still viewed and viewed themselves as the supreme temporal judge, the highest bench, of their realm. International military alliances were formed between nation states, but these were nearly always predicated on the betterment of the individual powers involved. Furthermore, international armies were an aspiration of some but not a reality: even the Crusades had a deeply nationalistic element. To broadly sum up what has historically made a nation state, it is a polity whose government is the supreme executive, judiciary and legislature, and whose government has the power to- and feels able to- viably legislate on and control all aspects of the state which make it functional.

When we look at our nations today, we realise that this model no longer applies. The UK participates in a trading bloc and trading groups which determine its economic policy, as well as that of the other nation states within it. Governments are reluctant to embark on radical fiscal or monetary policies for fear of ‘upsetting the markets’ or causing ‘wealth flights’ in which the rich look to settle elsewhere where tax rates are more favourable. Whether some on the right-wing fringes fulminate against it, we defer legal decisions to courts which are superior to our own national ones, to the judges who sit in Strasbourg of The Hague, and our leaders acknowledge their judgements as lawful. We subscribe to internationally-recognised rules for war, with accepted sanctions if they are not followed, as well as contribute, along with many other nation states, to global military forces and multilateral permanent alliances that have essentially internationalised elements of the armed forces. Our government heeds the legislation of the European Union when debating our laws in Parliament and, even were a Brexit to occur, I doubt our leaders would pass anything that contravened or contradicted the liberal Western orthodoxies of abstract ideas such as freedom of expression and the right to education lest nations around us then forsook or turned against us. Overall, the building blocks which I mentioned have both outgrown the nation state itself- especially the global economy- and rendered national governments less and less powerful. This is not something to be lamented: it’s the inevitable result of a globalised world with globalised economies and ideas that then break down borders and result in international values reified as international laws. In actual fact, it makes the ultimate sense for legislation on something like the fiscal and monetary policy of the UK, which is a mere part of a structure which intrinsically covers pretty much the entire globe now, to be determined on an appropriately global level by global representatives. Thomas Piketty was proposing something similar with his idea of a global wealth tax. People scoff at it as impractical, but that is only because people still cling onto an antiquated and redundant idea of the power of the nation state residing with in.

So if nation states, individually, are powerless and would be better governed by super-national bodies, what validates them as nation states now? The answer is their individual cultures, idiosyncrasies, customs, rituals, languages and history. The UK is essentially a cultural and historical unit. If someone were to draw up a nation state today on the grounds of economic, judicial, military, legislative, and logistical functionality, they probably would take no notice of a slim strip of sea between a big continental mass and an island, nor would they separate the top of Ireland from the rest of it. Take aspects like culture, language and history into account, and they just might.

So perhaps, with the functional aspect of the nation state eroding (both theoretically and practically) along with any notion of national political and economic sovereignty amongst an increasingly internationally-focused youth, perhaps the national governments of today will be the regional cultural guardians of tomorrow. I will certainly still be voting for a party to legislate for Britain in this upcoming general election, but whether my grandchildren shall be doing the same seems increasingly unlikely.