Tuesday, 20 September 2011

Fixing the Vote?

We all dislike politicians and so many would have found little sympathy for bereaved MPs who lost a seat at the recent boundary changes implemented by the government, cutting the number of MPs from 650 to 600. Such a call has long been advocated, allowing a re-allocation of resources so the fewer MPs have a much greater chance to do their jobs more effectively. Much attention has been focused on high profile MPs under threat like Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, or Nadine Dorries, the anti-abortion activist. Moreover Labourites have attacked the proposals for cutting slightly more Labour seats than Tory ones, though this is largely insignificant. Indeed, some would say the losses in terms of actual seats are a smokescreen to the much more concerning reforms that come with it, namely the proposal to make it no longer compulsory to co-operate with electoral registration officers. Thus many less politically interested voters will simply forget to register and be unable to vote. Leaving registration to the individual is more likely to lead to less representation in working class areas, whereas Tory strongholds will do better. In marginal seats this could tip the balance for generations to come towards the Blue. 

It may seem cynical to say that poorer people are less inclined to sort out their voting registration and will never vote conservative, or that richer people will always vote Tory and are more likely to understand and act on the system, whilst you may think that if someone cannot be bothered to register individually, then why should we care? But the problem is that just because many people are disinterested in politics, does not mean that we should give up on their vote. Just because they need a nudge in the correct direction does not mean their vote is any less valuable, on the contrary, it is worth more as it represents the average citizen, whereas more politically interested voters, like myself, tend to be abnormalities in that regard. Were this to occur, than elections would be dominated by something of an unrepresentative extreme, with the views of many ordinary folk left out. How could such an election claim to represent us, and thus legitimately govern, us all, if so many of its citizens did not vote at all. In fact such a system is yet another Americanisation on behalf of the Coalition, and helped George W. Bush to his infamous Florida win in 2000.

I have long advocated compulsory voting, along with several other measures, to truly maximise our democratic output, but this is a step in completely the wrong direction. Not realising how to vote will put many more people off politics all together, and the representatives of the Southern, White, Upper Middle Classes, shall rule over us all. It is true to the Conservative plan. Offer increased 'involvement' in government whilst ensuring that such involvement is dictated by party loyalists. Perhaps an even greater irony is that this goes directly against the new Conservative fad, nudge theory, whereby little encouragements and reminders help people achieve greater levels of civic duty. For instance, when renewing driving licenses, we can now, thanks to the Coalition, apply to be organ donors, a good idea in my opinion. So that this is removing a pre-existing 'nudge' can, in my view, only serve to underline the political gamesmanship on show by the government.Many people simply do not understand the system, even as it is.

I would like to renew my call for compulsory voting, with a 'none of the above' option. It would not really harm our liberties, as it a small, yet vastly important civic duty, more important than paying tax. It doesn’t take long and would ensure that our elected leaders really are true representatives of the nation. In fact it'd make sure that politicians were telling the truth about their roles, for once.

Sunday, 18 September 2011

The Americanisation of Britain

Currently many nationalists speak of Islamic influences as the main threat to our national and political identity as a Northern European country. This is profoundly wrong, such groups make up just over 3% of the population and despite getting a lot of media attention, their views are simply too incompatible with liberal Britain to succeed. Their threat is overplayed and used as an excuse for racism. No, true nationalists will understand that American influence is a greater danger.

Of course, the USA is the world's leading power so inevitably her culture will largely govern the global agenda. However, I have increasingly noticed, how the current Coalition seems bent on executing ideological policy to make us become increasingly like America as a political entity. Firstly, out attitudes to money and wealth have become very Americanised, as we don’t feel that privilege matters in selecting our leaders. Hence the large portion of privately educated politicians. Compare this to the American presidency whose many incumbents have come from wealthy backgrounds. Bush bought his way into Harvard, Kennedy was a millionaire and current potential leader, Mitt Romney finances his campaign via his personal wealth. This is worrying, as it creates an assumption that the wealthy are the best for the job, despite their innate advantages, and so a need for a wider class background is not needed. Consider Neil Kinnock's speech about his family, which I have always treasured, his argument is simple yet potent, his ancestors were not rich and hence not powerful, they had no education and little influence. Yet did this mean they were less clever or had less drive. No. “It was because their was no platform upon which they could stand.” I am sure David Cameron is very bright and deserving of his high calibre of education. But I am pretty sure that any who had his opportunities at Eton and Oxford, could have done equally well.

Culturally, Sky now bases its major output almost entirely on US shows, schools now have 'proms', and the rioters feared the 'feds' (FFS). We've also got the obsession with material happiness and the classic 'horizon culture' By this I mean that we always see good things/happiness as just over the horizon, for instance, we work hard in the week and relax at weekends, as many of us are not happy at work.

In terms of actual policy there are decent examples of this desire to be more like the US;

- We now have the world's third most expensive university education, just below the US, while we are showing equal disdain for any 'useless' arts subjects.

-The NHS is being privatised by the back door, like the US.

-We are stripping back help for the weakest in our society, akin to America's very basic welfare system.

-The attitude towards the BBC is increasingly in favour of private broadcasting, with many rightist commentators seeing it as somehow 'bias' for not blindly representing their interests.

-Internationally, despite failures in Iraq and Afghanistan we continue to support US hawks in intervening in Libya.

-Though theocratic influences have thankfully be diminished in the UK due to having a state church that can be neutralised, we are beginning to see more evangelical groups getting a say in day to day administration. Hence the religious groups involved in free schooling and the delegation of human trafficking duties from a secular charity to the Salvation Army, a cabal of Christian fundamentalism.

-Finally, as is plane for all to see, the corrupt, economic libertarianism that infests America so, is gaining hold here. Indeed, many Republicans see Britain’s failing austerity plan as the ideal blueprint for their own. Essentially the very American idea prevails that making money is all that matters. Profit above people.

Media commentators are even worse culprits. Calling for the re-introduction of capital punishment, demanding harsh sentences, especially after the riots (6 months for stealing a bottle of water, really Britain, really?), as well as a hatred of the EU and ECHR on behalf of many, preferring the conservative-minded US. Hence the rejection of humane European laws on prisoner voting by many a right wing commentator.

Is this a good aim? After all, the US is a superpower, surely these values could help us? Such an assumption is, in my view, incorrect, as Britain is too historically different from America for these values to work in the same way, and secondly, as I feel there are several problems in the US that should not be replicated in the UK. Though we may envy their increased liberties and codified constitution, this is really just an appearance. Outside the Supreme Court, the US has undermined its reputation for liberty. The PATRIOT act allowed wire tapping of US citizens. In many states LGBT members are continually discriminated against, the poor are forced to accept religious help, people lose their jobs for exercising free speech. In many ways the rich elite still rules, as they have since Independence, which was of course directed by the colonial rich men. For instance the Koch millionaires have largely directed the political movement called the tea party. You only need to look at US conservatism to see that it will be a disaster if British conservatism goes down that route. Just watch Fox News; a parade of ignorance, disinformation, no alternatives are allowed, and politics is reduced to the form of mass market propaganda.

Think Fox is too obvious an example, well then read the British and American versions of “The Spectator”. It is quite easily to infer that the British Spectator is conservative, but this is achieved tacitly and coverage is rather balanced. In contrast the US form is just ridiculously one sided. This leading article on UK politics is not (http://spectator.org/archives/2010/11/23/the-decline-of-british-politic/1) even trying to be balanced. Not only is Cameron seen as 'centre left' but this ideology is merely “The path to power for murderers” because Britain has become “godless”. I mean what the fuck, what the actual fuck. That's what passes for intelligent comment in America. Accusing adherents of any shade of social democracy of being 'murderers' and then claiming that the rise of such murderousness is because of a lack of christianity, it is something to be feared. And this is what will become of our nation, unless we act against it. Small town America here we come.

Such a rabid worship of these American gods- blind consumerism, 'rugged individualism' and a 'greed is good' attitude are not true to Britain's heritage,that has always been more collectivist. Instead we should look to our European neighbours for inspiration and embrace their ideals of social liberalism and mixed economics, whilst retaining features of our own, that are neither European nor American. It is time to distinguish ourselves, and create a nation that we can truly call our own.

Monday, 12 September 2011

On Schools

 Free schools are back on the agenda this week, with Cameron calling their critics 'defenders of failure'. For me free schools are a terrible idea because;
-allow more religious nutters to make schools like the "Everyday champions" school (shudders) and thus corrupt the minds of our younglings
-are innately middle class. Poorer parents are less likely to give a damn and thus most free schools will be set up by middle class parents, who will engineer ways in which to defraud more common pupils from entry, via area selection, or esoteric subjects like Latin. Infamously, Toby Young (Simon Pegg's character in "How to lose friends and alienate people) wants to set one up and wants to introduce Latin. I fail to see why any child should do Latin in the 2010s, unless of course you are a yuppie sycophant. Beggars belief.

Schools are a classic case of NIMBYism. Some people will loudly advocate the idealism behind comprehensives, that every child has an equal opportunity at such schools, yet then will send their own children to selective schools as they fear for them at ordinary comprehensives. Indeed, many so called 'leftists' have done so, such as Diane Abbott. Most middle class liberal parents will also do the same, and frankly, im glad my parents encouraged me to choose a grammar school, over the local comp.

  Problem is selective schools are hardly the answer either. Religious and private schools are purely randomly based on essentially innate background characteristics and hence not meritocractic. As I said before these should be banned. Grammar schools do work of course, but they can also be unfair. The 11+, used to decide who goes to grammar schools is frankly complete and utter bullshit. It has a section called 'non-verbal' reasoning in which candidates essentially have to find patterns in shapes. Never before and never since in my education, in any subject, did i have to utilise this 'skill', as an educational indicator its about as relevant as an internet IQ test, ie not very, unless you pass and use it as infalliable proof of your eternal greatness. Though the English and Maths sections are more pertinent, it is only a snapshot of pupil ability at years 7 or 9 and only in a handful of subjects. Essentially the 11+ is another money test, to see if you can afford the tutors to coach the kids into shape. Not fair.

Therefore, I feel the solution lies in more open grammar schools. Perhaps, you could make massive comps where everyone went, with 2 tiers of school, one to serve the more academic and studious pupils and one for those who want a more vocational path or dont want to learn (as these twats cause most of the problems in schools). Pupils could switch between the schools at any time in their school career, based on choice, or if the teacher thinks they are working hard enough/not enough. This avoids the danger of dividing pupils too soon or too late. When I was in year 9 I got pretty bad reports as i always tried and failed to be funny. In year 13 i got A* A* A in my A levels. Go figure.

Monday, 5 September 2011

On Privatisations

 A popular criticism of socialism is that it relies on the finite source of 'other people's money'. Yet today we can easily reverse this, and accuse neo-liberals of selling off what does not belong to them, but to us all, and degrading civic values, both of which are just as finite as money, through their insatiable need to privatise public assets, and their obsession with 'choice' and 'competition'. I write this having recently been given an advert for a new NHS hospital in my area. Clearly recent Coalition emphasis on 'competition' in the NHS has induced the apparent for a hospital to sell itself, no doubt to attract private funding. The NHS is an incomplete example as it will still be free at the point of use, yet the introduction and celebration of private sector competition on the part of Andrew Lansley suggests the health service has started on the road to some form of privatisation. Moreover, the NHS is a popular state body and, unlike many, people are, more or less, happy to pay taxes to uphold it, so, even from the government's viewpoint, such policies are politically dangerous, especially given the furore over the forests earlier in the year, whilst similar policies, such as in education focus on private provision, essentially, 'privatisation lite'. There can thus be no greater illustration of the government's motivation to privatise; ideology. Just as it has always been since the 1980s, state assets will be sold off religiously, while private sector vultures are given first pickings at the weaker limbs of public bodies.

There are both practical and moral arguments at hand;

Firstly, such policies are hardly proven successes. Major's privatisation of the railways in the 1990s has merely created inefficient, overpriced services that have put many people off public transport and back onto roads, creating more congestion and pollution. With price rises of up to 12% in places, contractors now demand even more money from the public, despite falling efficiency, for a service that should be accountable to them. Private healthcare in the US has created a huge economic problem as many corporations are crippled by hefty insurance payments. Furthermore, a great deal of covert privatisation has occurred in recent decades, such as over CRB checking, which costs the police £60 simply to 'check' the forms, that could, and should, be done by the services themselves. Contrary to its supporters' claims, privatisation has hardly promoted a sense of economic efficiency.

Equally, there are severe moral issues relating to such agendas. We were all shocked by the inhumane treatment of patients at private care homes, and this is a more obvious expression of the problem with putting profit above people in the public sector, where money is not so much of an issue. Yet, in a general sense, private involvement is alien to the very nature of the state. By law, companies must do all they can to pursue greater profits for their shareholders, whereas the state must protect and provide for its citizens, with notably less importance placed on monetary matters. 

This conflict cannot be resolved as it was not meant to. By privatising, we simply devolve all the joys and nobilities of our existence into marketing tools, convert our children into economic units
and cast off our vulnerable brethren into the uncertain seas of the free market. Despite the association with liberalism such policies are also less democratic as they reduce accountability. Only the wealthy can truly influence the provision of private services, whilst all voters can manipulate that of public service.

Private involvement was always beneficial where commodities and luxuries were concerned, providing a self-regulating system of incentives. Yet where the very character of our lives are at stake, their involvement should not be welcomed. Like everything in politics, the solution lies in a compromise. Let the democratic accountability of the state control areas such as health, transport, education, areas that affect us all and to each of which, we are born with a fundamental right to. Then we can watch as the limitless possibilities for human life that capitalism can create, colour the very fabric of existence.