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Showing posts with label uk. Show all posts
Showing posts with label uk. Show all posts

Friday, 30 August 2013

The UK wants to stay away from bombs, not give 'succour' to Assad

The Government's defeat in the House of Commons over taking military action in Syria demonstrates a rare circumstance where the public are listened to by the MPs and widespread unwillingness to create another situation we are still overseeing in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet, as another day begins since the use of chemical weapons, allegedly by Assad, the propaganda war will begin and we will be told that we have failed the Syrian people by voting against; the UK Government will denounce its citizens as misinformed, misguided and attack anti-war MPs for their ill thought-out and 'despicable' (as Michael Gove shouted) choices. But this is not the case.

By voting no to military action yesterday, that is all MPs, representing us, have done. With public support for military intervention sitting at figures between 8 and 12 percent, depending on your source, the case for it was always going to be undermined. And that is because people recognised the failings of the Iraq and Afghanistan war: the massive loss of lives; the lies told by the Government; and, the failure for the conflicts to end after over a decade. In addition, the increased prevalence of whistleblowers, such as Wikileaks and Chelsea Manning, have raised the profile of the war crimes and terrible consequences of Western military intervention. Many now have the opinion that using bombs as a way of ending a conflict only makes the situation worse. Perhaps, the deep misunderstanding of the way to end a conflict has caused deep resentment by groups in the Middle-East and hence given way to the increased membership of terrorist organisations such as Al-Qaeda. I am in no way condoning the activities such organisations partake in, but I can see a possible motivation; you wrecked our country with your imperialist use of your military muscle, we'll do what we can to show you how reckless you have been. 

It is for these reasons that people oppose military intervention in Syria. The motion presented to the House yesterday, including the amendment, did not present us with the dichotomy that we are told we were presented with. It was not so simple as black and white that it was either bomb Syria or sit back and watch Syria bomb itself. The third option, ignored by the motions and the amendments, although recognised by many members of the house in their speeches, and unsuccessfully proposed as an amendment by Green MP Caroline Lucas, was that we used more peaceful, negotiating tactics, based on humanitarian aid and diplomacy to end the conflict. A far less bloody solution than was proposed by the leaders of the three main parties in the house. It was this view that was ever-dominant throughout the debate yet, ironically, no-one was given the choice to vote for it. The closest that MPs could get to voting for peaceful action, was to vote against the motion and the amendment, which called for military action.

Hence, the opinions that we are presented with today, that we have 'let the people of Syria down', we have 'ruled out any action' and that we have somehow given 'succour' to Assad completely disregard this third option. It is unfortunate that we live in a world where the two most powerful nation's leaders are bloodthirsty, hotheaded and quick to hit the launch button. At least, with some stroke of luck, a majority of thirteen members of the House swung the vote in the way of sense.

Monday, 26 August 2013

Don’t Make Box-Ticking Mandatory

The Institute for Public Policy Research has recommended that voting is made compulsory for first-time voters, but they have seriously overlooked the point of voting.

The UK is most certainly experiencing a democratic deficit, from low voter turnouts, distrust in politicians and a lack of everyday political engagement and, therefore, it is a problem that must be addressed.

As the body that seeks to promote democratic participation, the institute reports that compelling first-time voters to place their ballot would have a wide range of benefits, ranging from forging a life-long habit of voting to ensuring that political parties pay more attention to the young vote. The options on the ballot would include each candidate in the area and an option to not place a ballot.
However, the proposal by the thinktank seriously undermines one of the core concepts of a democracy – choice. Although the thinktank provides an option for young people to place their vote, the idea that they must attend the ballot station and tick a box, or face a fine, is completely at odds with the definition of a democracy. And even if this policy were implemented, you may as well go the full mile and extend the compulsion to all members of the electorate; everyone has views after all.

To compel young people to vote would be to create a false politics, with an inaccurate measurement of political participation. What the thinktank does understand well is the need for politics to appeal to young people and that is the approach that should be taken. It’s been said over and over again that political parties need to speak to young people, perhaps even before they begin to vote, rather than just wait for when they have the power to make a difference. But as young people live their lives so differently to the majority of the electorate, with different living, employment and financial arrangements, the majority of political decisions lay in relation to a future not yet completely comprehended by many young people. Issues such as tuition fees, the Educational Maintenance Allowance and same-sex marriage can appeal to young people, whereas others such as pension reform and care home standards bear no relevance yet.

A mixture of a lower age of participation and better political education will do a far better job at increasing political participation than this proposal. Allowing people to engage at an earlier age can create a habit as much as compelling them to do so. But this will only work if politicians make politics relevant and exciting to young people, making them understand that decisions made now can have an effect on their later life even at such an early stage. And it also relies largely on their close family and friends who may display complete dissatisfaction with politics – older members of families in particular may pass on negative views about the political system to the younger generation and their lack of a habit to vote may make voting seem an abnormal or worthless thing to do.

Furthermore, it’s no question of a doubt that the majority of the things we are forced to do are the least enjoyable. Why add politics to that mix? Politics should not be something that people are made to do, but something that people want to do. Forcing people to vote is more likely to push people away from politics, than be a ‘nudge in the right direction’. A democracy is about consensual participation, not mandatory box-ticking once a year.

You can show your opinion in a poll at the Guardian, but that’s your choice.

Also published on Redbrick and Backbench

Friday, 5 July 2013

Remembering Thatcher

In the wake of Margaret Thatcher’s death, euphoria appears to be sweeping over the nation, with calls to rename the August Bank Holiday ‘Margaret Thatcher Day’ and to replace the five pound note’s Elizabeth Fry with Maggie. However, this is not as wide-spread a demand as it would appear to be; the demand is being exemplified by the media and the governing Tory party. In a bid to continue the celebration of the late Prime Minister, Tories are aiming to present the controversial leader on an everyday basis. But surely there are better and more politically neutral people who can take these places, if they do indeed need taking?

Margaret Thatcher’s death in April provided a fresh chance on the debate on her legacy – whichever side of the spectrum you swing, it is difficult to deny that she changed the scene of the UK forever – but the celebrations of this legacy have evolved into an unprecedented demand for everlasting jubilation. Tory MP for Wellingborough, Peter Bone, wants the country to celebrate the late August Bank Holiday as Margaret Thatcher day as early as next year, with the second reading of the Private Member’s Bill (aptly named ‘Margaret Thatcher Day Bill’) taking place today. At present, there are no days specially named after any politicians, let alone Prime Ministers, so it seems strange to allow the first one to be named after someone so controversial, who continues to provoke such strong debate nearly 35 years since she first took power. After all, surely there have been better candidates, solely within the Prime Minister category, for such an honour. Take, for example, Clement Attlee, the mid-20th century Labour Prime Minister who oversaw the creation of the NHS and the world’s most extensive welfare state. This man’s work improved (and continues to do so) the life of millions, significant reducing the deaths of diphtheria, pneumonia and tuberculosis within the working class very quickly, as well as providing well-paid work to consultants. Whatever your views on the current NHS, this legacy continues to live on and improve the lives of millions, and is undeniably a major benefit to the UK.

Furthermore, although not a direct decision of the Palace of Westminster but the Bank of England, there is a view to remove Elizabeth Fry from the five pound note and replace her with the Conservative Prime Minister, Winston Churchill. However, as the only female (excepting Her Majesty) remaining on UK currency, there is a large campaign to increase the number of women remembered on our banknotes. Again, we are presented with the proposals to replace Elizabeth Fry with dear old Maggie. There are most certainly other women we can be proud of and owe more of today’s rights and luxuries too. We have Florence Nightingale, the social reformer and founder of modern nursing, Emmeline Pankhurst, the leader of the suffragette movement, and Emily Davison, the suffragette who died fighting for women’s rights to vote, who are all deserving of a celebration of their contributions to Britain’s rights and freedoms. They draw respect and inspire many across the political spectrum and across the world that Thatcher does not share; they lived their lives to further the women’s cause in a way that Thatcher denounced; and, they formed a pillar of society alike to those that Thatcher wished to destroy.

Despite her undeniable changes to the country, Thatcher is far less deserving of the privileges currently being discussed to be given posthumously than others who lived before her. As a controversial character, she inspires both joy and hatred in citizens across the country and, indeed, world. There are most definitely other more unifying and celebratory historical figures who are worthy of the luxuries that are being granted to our former Prime Minister, whom we should ensure we consider.