Category Archives: BBC

My referendum day memories from inside the campaign

I am today pondering two very powerful words. They are ‘what’ and ‘if’. What if, on this day one year ago, the British electorate had voted for their country to remain within the European Union? What if we had been on the losing end of a gruelling and hard-fought referendum campaign? What if the tides that had hardened British public opinion against EU membership been whisked away, only to be replaced by many more years of ever closer political union?

For somebody like me, it is a frightening thought. As I type I can recall the restlessness and agitation that characterised June 23rd 2016. I am reminded of the uncomfortable train journey I took to work (at Vote Leave HQ), at 5am a year ago, in which I sat slumped in the carriage, nerve-stricken and tired, trying simultaneously to envisage victory and suppress any useless over-confidence.

It was an overcast morning, I seem to recall, which grew cloudier and very windy as the day progressed, and was marred by incessant rail disruption, which started (luckily) after I got to work. Any London commuters on that day will remember the disaster of trying to get home. A quick Google reminded me that flooding and storms were the cause. One memory I have of June 23rd, that has remained etched into my mind, is of the packed concourse at Waterloo station, which at the time pleased me as I thought it possible that many Remain-supporting Londoners would not be able to get home in time to vote.

As I arrived at work on polling day, the office was typically quiet. Part of my job was to monitor all Vote Leave and referendum press coverage; hence the early starts and long shifts. This was the case every morning until about 7, when Press and Research would arrive. But on June 23rd, things were a little different. The morning beforehand, most of the team had taken the coach down to Dover, where a final campaign push had been planned.

I was asked to stay in the office on the final day and so did not get to go, but that I did not mind. Much of the day, until colleagues returned around 10pm, remained eerily quiet. It provided me with quite a lot of time to think about the campaign; to mull over my personal contribution, fret about the result and keep a beady eye on voter activity through social media channels.

I spent a good part of the morning examining the major newspapers, and was particularly happy with the Sun’s beautiful splash, which I’ll never forget for as long as I live. It read: ‘Independence Day’, with an image of sunrise over the United Kingdom, with the stars on the European Union flag retreating back towards the continent. One of the great reliefs of the campaign was the support we aroused amongst the country’s most-read newspapers. They may not carry the political weight that they used to, but they certainly help to influence public opinion.

As the day wore on, in surprisingly uneventful fashion, my emotions started to get the better of me a little bit. I suppose I was in part frustrated at the long waiting game ahead and in part angered by statuses written by friends on Facebook, with whom I should not have bothered to engage in argument. That day, I amassed three fallings out, which disappointed me as I am not usually the type to let political beliefs jeopardise personal relationships.

I spoke about this on BBC London News about two weeks after the referendum. The scale of the issue, I think, provided exactly the sort of fertile soil for arguments and family splits. In the video package presented by the BBC, my section was contrasted with a focus on three ethnic minority voters who had experienced racism post-result (which of course had everything to do with voting to Leave and nothing whatsoever to do with pre-existing personal bigotry). It was a characteristically Remain-heavy segment, but I was not so bothered.

I spent much of June 23rd clearing out my desk, tidying up my work and making final preparations for my last work duties, which made me a little emotional. I hated 12 hour shifts, but the immense privilege of being a part of it all is something I will always treasure. One of the many valuable things I learned at the job was the importance of teamwork and making everybody aware that we are all in something together, working towards the same goal.

Some colleagues also stayed in Westminster that day and did not follow the team down to Dover. I believe that Matthew Elliott and Gisela Stewart had journeyed to Manchester, though for reasons I was unaware of. The feeling amongst those who were in the office was quiet enthusiasm. We had been monitoring polling trends carefully and had produced rigorous data that gave us a reasonable impression of how different sorts of people and different constituencies would vote.

I chatted with colleagues and took part in some ‘thanks for everything’ campaign photos and videos, which were released a couple of weeks later. I spent much of the day reflecting on what it was I had been involved in, especially given I was just 20 years old and our youngest employee. I thanked our politicians who dropped by, like Douglas Carswell and Michael Gove, who were both very pleasant to me when we spoke and always gave up their time to thank those less senior in the campaign for their efforts.

As the evening drew in, the wind picked up, the clouds darkened and my nerves rattled with renewed vigour. My plan, initially, was to get the train home at 6pm and come back to headquarters at around midnight, either by train or the night bus. Rail disruption made this impossible, so I had dinner at a local pizza restaurant with a colleague and took a two-hour nap on the floor underneath my desk, taking advantage of the periodic silence.

By the time I had woken up, (which must have been around 9pm) other campaign figures had returned from their Dover escapades and were filing back into the office. I chose to make my way home, as something resembling normal train service had resumed, making sure to get a few winks as I knew that the early hours of the morning would be stressful and restless.

The night bus brought me back to Westminster at just gone 11pm, where I grabbed some food and headed straight for the office. I was happy to see it full and lively. Everybody associated with us was there, minus Gisela and Matthew Elliott, who were in Manchester, and Suzanne Evans, who arrived a little later on. I took my usual seat, next to Penny Mordaunt, whose phone charger I asked to borrow as I had killed my battery on the way keeping my eyes fixed on BBC News and the ‘Britain Elects’ Twitter feed (which has proved a life saver on the night of major political events).

Everybody sat facing the three large televisions as results continued to leak through. Then, something extraordinary happened: Sunderland declared. Before arriving at the office, the Newcastle result had come through, and we had lost there, but by a shockingly small margin, which had given me real hope. Sunderland, though, had opted to leave the European Union. Enormous cheers thundered around the seventh floor of Westminster Tower, perhaps slightly prematurely.

This particular result had suggested two things: that our polling was accurate and that the rural Labour vote had turned out for Leave. At around half past 12 in the morning, the champagne glasses were out. We were very confident. I don’t usually drink, or particularly like, champagne, but Tom Harwood (a friend and leader of the Leave student component) was already on it and sitting the other side of me so I thought: ‘fuck it, why not?’

The good news kept coming. BBC, Sky and ITV pundits, one by one, began to call the referendum in our favour. Every time a major seat (such as, for instance, Cardiff) announced its result we’d sit in collective silence and anticipation. It was almost like we were watching a Cup Final penalty shootout. Though of course this was much, much bigger.

Then, at around 2pm, every major media organisation had officially called a Leave victory. I don’t recall ever feeling such impassioned and joyful relief in my entire life. We knew at this point that it was only a waiting game. Our messages had hit the country and our voters had turned out in droves. The office environment became more relaxed and those present began to discuss anecdotes and memories of the campaign. Things could still go wrong, but nothing could wipe the smiles off of our faces. We were within touching distance.

I began to guess what the confirmed result would be. My friend and Vote Leave Research Director Oliver Lewis had told me some weeks before that he suspected 52-48 in our favour, though his then-fiancé later informed me that at home he was not quite so confident. We discussed morale and the result a lot, and I took his thoughts seriously because he’s an extremely smart guy. One thing I knew was that it would not be a demolition job; the scale of the issue was far too big for an annhiliation either way.

As I think back now, I realise how quickly the time went that morning. 2pm, 3pm and 4pm all now seem like a blur. They seemed to congeal together in a haze of shock and glee. A part of me wishes I could go back and re-live those early hours. They were undoubtedly the most jubilant in my lifetime. I had personally devoted three months of twelve-hour shifts, amassing four days off, and many hundreds of miles travelling around the country beforehand in order to participate in localised activism.

But pass those hours did, and at 4pm, the result of the referendum was announced. I managed at this point to do something I had never done before: I cried genuine tears of joy. My head sank into my hands and I sobbed uncontrollably. I had, at one point, three female colleagues hovering around me, offering me hugs and kind words of congratulations. It certainly wasn’t my most masculine moment. But it was my happiest.

I weaved in and around the office, thanking every colleague I could hug, many of them multiple times. I regret the pictures of me from that day hugely; I had not washed or slept for almost two days and my hair was greasier than a large Doner, not that I had an ounce of care. Darren Grimes, who I had come to know reasonably well during the campaign, returned to the office from a television appearance he had made and joined the celebrations. Shockingly, he seemed to be able to hold it together better than I had.

Then Suzanne Evans made an appearance, which pleased me greatly as I had grown to like her as a person and thought of her as a great tower of strength and reliability throughout the referendum (I wish her well in her battle with cancer). We spoke about a number of things for a good twenty minutes and she offered me a little advice ahead of a potential career in politics. ‘Do something else before you hold office’, she told me. ‘You’ll be more respected that way’. I suspect she is correct.

Minutes later, emotions bubbled to the surface once more as a couple of very heartfelt speeches were made, first by Dan Hannan (who unfollowed me on Twitter the next day), and then, more importantly, by Dominic Cummings, who had directed the campaign beautifully. I have a good video of the post-result speech that Dom made, but have sought to keep it private as I believe he would prefer that. Indeed, many of these memories are extremely powerful and private.

But the morning wasn’t crowned off until I left the office, starving and exhausted, at around 6am. I had planned to stick around until McDonalds had begun serving breakfast, as there is no better way to spend a morning than with a double sausage and egg Mcmuffin in your mouth. I left McDonalds with two (‘you deserve it, I told myself’) and walked back to Albert Embankment, taking a seat on one of the benches next to the Thames.

I watched as the sun rose gloriously, and appropriately, over the Palace of Westminster. All was well.

 

 

 

 

 


Final thoughts on voting, non-voters and elections before results are finalised

A few weeks ago I decided, against the advice of friends and family, not to vote at this General Election and I managed to stick to that vow. I have written at this blog about my reasons for abstaining, but to summarise, I mistrust both major parties and their leaders, the election was called to allow the Tories to extend their lead over weakened opposition and I live in a safe, Leave-voting seat extremely unlikely to be toppled by Labour.

Obviously, a part of me wanted to take part. My polling station is but a five-minute walk from my home. The polling card I was sent on Tuesday is still leaning against my television as I type, almost guilt-tripping me into feelings of wrongdoing. But in good conscience, I did not wish to. There is something very slavish about the voting process that is especially magnified when one lacks enthusiasm for all of the available, balloted candidates.

As a non-voter at this election, I wanted to rebut three of the more ludicrous claims that have been made, particularly today, about the vote. They are certain clichés that are recycled every polling day, but that nonetheless linger despite being so profoundly false. I then want to slip in a few final thoughts about improving elections, turnout and predictions ahead of tonight’s result. I should note that this blog has been written partly before and partly after the emergence of tonight’s exit poll.

Non-voters surrender their right to complain

Of all the nonsensical remarks made by the sad individuals who spend polling day pressuring others to vote, none is more irritating and wrong than the argument that non-voters cannot complain about their future political environment or public policy.

The first reason for this is that voting is not by any means the only way to express your views or mobilise politically. In fact, for large portions of the country living in safe seats, it is scarcely a way. Other, very good avenues through which a person can become active and influence the political landscape might be through think tanks, research, trade unions or protest.

Can we really say that a highly active political person, who falls outside the traditional spectrum and thus does not support establishment parties, does not have a right to complain despite engagement in other relentless forms of campaigning and activism? Furthermore, this cliché ignores the reverse: that the reason many do not vote is precisely because they have no party to vote for. Are these people not entitled to a moan? There are plenty of them.

We don’t elect all kinds of bodies and individuals who represent our national institutions. We don’t elect judges, public servants or Lords. Does this mean that, upon their occasional incompetence, we are not allowed to deride and moan about them? I fail to see how the absence of a personal vote equates to limits on that individual’s speech.

It is perfectly plausible that complaints from non-voters, especially those with influence such as academics, may actually help in their complaining to form constructive solutions to difficult problems. I would also add that common reasons for not voting have nothing to do with disinterest. Often, health or scheduling issues may conflict with access to a polling station.

I don’t want to set a complaints threshold. I am not going to say: ‘Only taxpayers can moan about flaws in public policy’, because I think children have the right to moan about injustices and failures at school and in their local communities. The truth is that targeting non-voters (who may live in seats rendering their votes unworthy of effort) as individuals who need to be silenced instead of contributing to debate is a very flawed idea indeed.

Britain fought wars to defend the right to vote

Can anybody name a war in which British troops were explicitly fighting to defend the right to vote? I certainly can’t think of one. A quick examination of any of our country’s more notable conflicts over the last century or more will induce the sensible to conclude that votes were no factor in our military pursuits. Brave men and women have always fought, and continue to fight, for liberty and to resist unjust oppression. These are the necessary motives for war, not protecting or winning any kind of vote. I am not sure why people constantly spread lies like this.

If by ‘war’ we mean suffrage, then that is at least more accurate, if a little misleading. Men in the early 1900s (whose suffrage is always mysteriously forgotten) and women in the late 1920s did indeed fight for the vote, but through domestic mobilisation and pressurising of political institutions. Certainly not on any battlefield.

Abstaining is unjust as other countries do not have the vote

Many countries, it is true, do not have public elections, but it is important that we clarify what we mean by countries that ‘do not have the vote’. The United States, for instance, holds quadrennial elections that the public are able to vote in, but does not constitutionally enshrine any explicit right to vote.

There are also countries in which voting is mandatory, such as Egypt, Lebanon and North Korea. Regardless of the appeal (or lack thereof) of candidates, or of the views of individuals, citizens are legally obliged to cast a ballot every few years. Furthermore, there exist countries that hold elections at municipal and not national levels, or in tier-based systems. Saudi Arabia and China are good examples of countries that operate these respective systems.

But I do not see why the existence of less democratically organised countries provides any moral reflection of abstentionism in countries that do allow their citizens to vote. It is not our business to decide upon the running of other countries as much as we would appreciate not allowing the influences of others dominate the way we govern our own. If citizens in oppressive regimes demand more voting rights, then those opportunities must be fought for at the bequest and approval of the affected population.

If we look for a moment in countries that restrict voting participation or refuse to hold elections altogether, we notice that these practices go on in un-free countries. I would ask the voting zealots to remember that as well as craving votes, many citizens in these countries would also appreciate the freedom not to vote (and hence legitimise the leaders that they despise).

Spoiled ballots ‘None of the above’ option

Why do people spoil their ballot papers? It is the most ridiculous waste of time and I have never understood why folk bother doing it. I was actually informed by a colleague this week that standing candidates are actually shown and read all spoiled ballots, which I found quite amusing (though I didn’t independently verify that it was true).

One interesting idea that I do think people should pay more attention to, though, is that of a ‘none of the above’ option on electoral ballot papers. I believe that if enough of the electorate opted for such an option, say 25% of voters, then an election ought to be declared void and is re-started with new leaders and new manifestos. I do not know if such an idea would cause massive political instability, but it would certainly provide shelter for the disillusioned.

The youth and voter turnout

Last night, I put a bet on with Ladbrokes that voter turnout would fall between 60-65%. I still imagine that this is the case, as I think that post-referendum fatigue may have caused many people to stay at home and not both today. ‘Brenda’, infamously interviewed by the BBC outside her house a few weeks back, captured this mood excellently by asking: “Why are they asking us again, can’t they just get on with it?”

Public figures, usually trendy liberal lefties and rich celebrities, once again tried their best to rally the young at this election. Their mannerisms are often so patronising. I wouldn’t mind so much if these people were honest, and openly asked youngsters to cast a vote for the Labour Party. That would at least be a little more sincere. The young may have turned up in surprising numbers today but it will be a while before we have any evidence. I suspect youth turnout was, as is customary, proportionally low.

The freedom not to vote and marginalisation

It is worth remembering that the freedom not to vote is very important. It was not protected by any of the nation’s wars, but it remains a useful method of political protest. The freedom not to vote is imperative purely because it allows members of the public to refrain from voting in instances where all balloted candidates propose policies and espouse views that they personally disapprove of.

I am actually developing a rapid dislike for the term ‘marginalised’. It is overused in political discourse. But, for social and moral conservatives such as myself, as well as other narrowing sects of the population, marginalisation is something we are experiencing. And I see no end to it.

Many who do not vote choose not to because they feel that in doing so, they would be fuelling a consensus or knot of parties with whom they have fundamental disagreements; thus bringing upon themselves further disenfranchisement. In this regard, not voting can be just as powerful and as telling as voting.

 


Trump ought to keep his paw out of the North Korean beehive

I sometimes wonder if Donald Trump has ever picked up a history book, or one covering war or geopolitics. It wouldn’t surprise me if he hasn’t, but he ought to.

I hold out a slither of hope that his advisers are at least more intelligent than he is, because if they aren’t, the United States could be sticking its hand rather naively into a hustling North Korean beehive.

If the president knew anything about Pyongyang’s foreign policy, he would know that missile tests are neither new nor particularly threatening.

During his eighteen year tenure, Kim Jong-il carried out plenty of missile tests, including nuclear ones, and usually for the purpose of playing a little political brinkmanship.

Under Jong-un, this trend has continued, and the endgame is the same. North Korea wants concessions and reassurances, not war. It is a country that can barely feed its people and a place in which electricity shortages are commonplace.

Pyongyang’s behaviour on the international stage has always has a perversely rational tinge to it. In the early 1990s, the communist pariah state’s first missile tests lured the Clinton administration into fruitful negotiations.

A deal known as the Framework Agreement (signed in October 1994) allowed for a sensible trade-off between North Korea and Bill Clinton’s United States: no more nuclear weapons development for relief of military hostility and economic sanctions.

Then again in 2005, after President Bush’s ideological dismantling of the countries’ relationship, Pyongyang offered Washington another deal which explained:

“The D.P.R.K. committed to abandoning all nuclear weapons and existing nuclear programs and returning, at an early date, to the Treaty on the Non-proliferation of Nuclear Weapons and to IAEA safeguards.”

The BBC notes in a timeline of DPRK-US nuclear talks that on December 20th 2005, “North Korea says it intends to resume building nuclear reactors, because the US had pulled out of a key deal to build it two new reactors.” The potential for progress between Jong-il and Bush was thus quashed.

There are more lengthy accounts of negotiations between the two countries available online, and given that I only intend to show that non-military avenues have not been exhausted, I do not need to reproduce them in their entirety.

The Trump administration must surely be aware of this important history. If it is, then it knows that war isn’t even close to being necessary. Without negotiations that produce a long-term agreement between Washington and Pyongyang, tensions will continuously resurface.

I have chosen thus far to remain objective about Donald Trump’s presidency, opting not to jump on nauseating pro or anti bandwagons. But Trump’s strike on the Assad regime in Khan Shaykhun the week before last and the use of a 21,000lb bomb in Afghanistan at the weekend tell me that old presidential patterns could be emerging.

A trigger happy state like the United States has employed the sledgehammer technique time and time again, often under the guise of fanciful democracy promotion.

‘Smash everything into pieces, and then when that doesn’t work and new problems spring up, smash those problems into tiny pieces too’.

It seems to me that as we move from a hegemonic world in which Washington could more or less control global affairs into a more nuanced, multi-polar world, with new threats and competing powers, the only noticeable foreign policy strategy coming out of the United States appears to be: ‘suppress any and all stability emerging on the doorsteps of our rivals’.

So in the case of North Korea, it is difficult to ignore the possibility of Trumpian pre-emptive strikes. Any missile attacks on North Korea would be both laughably unnecessary and, perhaps more importantly, intolerable in Beijing.

For China, the prospect of an unstable North Korea, shattered by military action and hollowed out by inevitable droves of fleeing refugees, must be avoided at all costs.

Donald Trump may think, based on his action in Syria, that his military endeavours are isolated incidents and that they will not have long lasting ramifications, but as ever he’d be mistaken. If he strikes Jong-un’s regime, he’ll have lost any remnant of support I ever had for him.

North Korea’s vice-foreign minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC today: “If the United States encroaches on our sovereignty, then it will provoke an immediate counter-reaction.” This seems to me reasonable. I would expect no less than if Trump were to attack Britain.

North Korea undoubtedly lacks a moral compass, but this does not make its declarations of sovereignty or its military mobilisation irrational. Pyongyang does behave outlandishly, but as a stagnant pond left after the departing tides of the Cold War, it was always going to attract unique scepticism.

I ask readers to draw inspiration from past diplomatic successes before succumbing to the appeal of yet another completely unnecessary war.


Some clarification on my religious reconsideration

I wanted to clarify some confusion amongst readers concerning my most recent blog post on religious reconsideration. The post can be read here.

One of my friends at university, a BBC commentator and journalist at Fulham, Aaron Mandair made the following, rather interesting comment when I tweeted my blog post out. He said: “I wouldn’t just abandon atheism for the sake of it, I would let God find you, otherwise there’s no point to believing.”

Aayush Priyank, a reader and clearly quite a militant atheist, responded to my post by saying that the quote C.S. Lewis quote that I used was ‘redundant’, and that “it is not evidence for God.”

My Scottish friend Ryan Lytwyn, incidentally a Liberal Democrat, pointed out that I used the term ‘liberal’ a little carelessly, which was true.

I think they make very good points, and what was said irritated me because I realised I had not written about my current position with enough clarity. Capturing weeks of consideration in a single blog post is not easy. So, to quickly address Aaron’s point, I should make clear that I am not actively trying to find God. As things stand, I am under the impression that God may have found me over a year ago, and that I was either too stubborn to let Him in, or perhaps that I simply did not realise it. Readers should remember that as I write I am in a place of doubt, trapped a little by confusion. I do not seek belief. Rather, for the very first time in my life, given my known reluctance to worship many of the things non-believers do, like hedonism, I am considering the possibility that God has been reaching out to me.

Mr Priyank, apparently not the best reader I’ve come across, has made a distinct error. Firstly, my use of the C.S. Lewis quote on man’s longing to find happiness in something other than God was not used to prove that God existed. I am not sure how he arrived at the conclusion that it was. I included it because I resonated with it. I felt that it was an accurate representation of Godless societies: man running around desperately looking for things to fill the void, even if those things only offer him short-term pleasure (hence my references to hedonism).

Ryan Lytwyn, a Facebook and personal friend of mine (despite horrendous political clashes) echoed Aaron’s view that faith isn’t something one looks for, and also mentioned that my use of the word ‘liberal’ was not reflective of his type of liberalism and that I was using it to mean Left-wing. I think he is right. I have a tendency to conflate ‘liberal’ with ‘Left-wing’ because that is how I see the political spectrum. I think Left and Right are now anchored to moral, social and cultural beliefs and not economics.

My constant use of the word ‘liberal’ was very lazy. Broadly speaking, those who are conservative are more likely to be religious and those who are liberal less so, but this is certainly not always the case. I have in recent days spent time talking to liberal-minded people who have Christ in their lives to get an understanding of why and how they converted. This was because I wanted to try and find parallels in my thinking when compared with their experiences.

I hope that provides a little more clarity. If readers are a little clearer now, they’ll still be a lot less confused than I am.


Yes, some peers are useless, but so too are elections!

Once again, the House of Lords finds itself squirming in the spotlight of British politics , this time as our peers attempt to weigh in on the triggering of Article 50. I do not think they will try to block Brexit. The House of Lords has shown that if it cares about anything, it is its own preservation.

For all the scandals, trials and tribulations that have rocked the second chamber over the years, the way in which the Lords remain relatively unscathed really does amaze me. And they know it too. Even Baroness D’Souza, a former speaker in the Upper House, believes that there are peers who offer nothing and get away with the bare minimum. 

She has told the BBC ahead of next Monday evening’s documentary on the Upper House that “many, many peers contribute absolutely nothing, despite receiving the full allowance.” Lords are allowed to claim a daily attendance allowance of up to £300 – but do not receive official salaries. If it wasn’t for absurdly generous allowances, I doubt many peers would bother with the parliamentary process at all.

Most are uncomfortably rich, often businessman or career politicians and do not need to claim hundreds of pounds every day. I don’t usually have any qualms with politicians accruing travel and accommodation expenses, as time taken out of the day to travel between home and Westminster can eat into casework, committee or legislative obligations, but attendance allowances (like those offered to Members of the European Parliament) are nonsensical.

But whatever dissatisfaction with peers lingers, I would reject calls for members to be elected to their posts. Some months ago I wrote an article for ‘Reaction’, which you can read here, on the political and practical potential of sortition (randomly selected citizen juries) in the arranging of Westminster’s Upper House. The article still highlights my position today, but like most of my work, it went largely ignored.

I do not think the Upper House should be an elected chamber. This is primarily because I believe that the British electorate simply doesn’t have the energy or the care to bother with voting for them. European elections consistently attracted embarrassingly low turnouts and even General Elections have revealed the same trend over the past seven decades.[1]

Many do not fully – or even partially – understand the role played by the Lords, and any Upper House elections would struggle to draw in even 20% of those eligible to vote. This would be in part due to electoral fever (made worse by social media) and in part due to a lack of understanding and emotional investment. Peers, after all, are not policy makers and need not produce enticing manifestos.

Another reason for avoiding the electing of peers is that it would help to transform the second chamber into a mirror image of the Commons. At present, Lords do not have to worry about toeing party line in order to keep their jobs. This is good, as it allows them to scrutinise government on a level playing field and operate according to their beliefs and consciences. The entire purpose of the second chamber, after all, is to hold the executive to account; an apolitical obligation almost on its own terms.

Juries of randomly selected citizens in the House of Lords would revitalise, or at least strengthen, the public’s enthusiasm for politics, introduce more cognitive diversity into the second chamber and would allow for more individuals to play a role in the legislative process. There is certainly no technocratic argument against it. Ordinary people have expertise, would be aided by researchers, secretaries and assistants, and we’d have the opportunity to do away with a stale honours system.

Peerages have become disgraced relics, handed out for political, rather than meritocratic purposes. Incumbent governments have been known to add party-political individuals to the Upper House in order to assist their efforts to have legislation passed through. This kind of tribal posturing is exactly what has led to the devaluing of honours and general mistrust in the House.

Committees do not have to be set up by former chancellors or founders of beer companies. Travel and accommodation expenses would indeed be paid to members of the public, just as they are today. The public can read, vote on bills and scrutinise serious issues, as proven by the unmistakeable success of court juries and a plethora of sortition-based research experiments.

Why, then, do we clamour for an elected system that we know perfectly well we wouldn’t care for?

 

Sources:

[1] http://www.ukpolitical.info/Turnout45.htm


What the BBC misses about Leave voters and immigrants 

One of the most overrated and overblown reasons for folk voting out of the European Union last summer was immigration. There existed within the Leave vote a substantial contingent that advocated retaining membership of the single market and pursuing what is called the ‘EEA option’. There was a large rural vote for Brexit based on the recovery of national sovereignty that came from areas not hugely impacted by mass immigration. There was also, believe it or not, a youth vote – much of it libertarian – that saw leaving the EU as an opportunity for profound democratisation. I am very much in the latter category.

I do not deny that immigration was a huge factor in the referendum. It was the most notorious and penetrable of each individual issue, and almost all polling placed it in the top one or two of concerns held by the British public (on both sides of the vote, no less). Nor do I deny that racists played their part in voting for Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. No doubt almost every self-professed or blatantly racist individual was on our side – doubtless the most useful contribution they have made to our country.

What annoys me is not the very valid association between Brexit and immigration, but the immediacy of the implications made that Leave voters based their decision primarily, or even solely, on this issue. Especially when these hints are left by mainstream media outlets seeking to lash out at certain sections of the public for voting the way that they did or for thinking the thoughts that they think. A BBC video package and news story published two days ago left exactly this sour taste in my mouth. Please take a moment to view it, here, as you will need to check it out to grasp my analysis:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-38999575

The headline ‘The Leaver reaching out to immigrants’ is extremely effective, it isn’t hard to see why the editor chose it. The trouble is that, once again, it inappropriately paints Brexit supporters with a particular brush. And there are two problems caused by this article.

The first is that, as the BBC is an extremely authoritative journalistic source (despite its many critics, I still have a lot of respect for the organisation), anybody who comes across this story will assume that ordinary Leave voters are not doing the same, or that they do not care about immigrants. The very running of this story highlights the very real disconnect that lingers between the mainstream media and ordinary Brexit voters. It falsely and presumptuously implies that Julian Thomson, the subject of the package, is an outstanding and unusual Leaver. In the video, he mentions the importance of integration and cohesion; an argument that has been perpetuated by countless commentators and politicians in Britain for the past decade. Even his reasoning for ‘reaching out’ isn’t new or interesting. He is merely offering common argumentation against large scale migratory influxes.

Secondly, where did this notion come from that those who support Brexit must be coerced into or encouraged to feel sorry for their actions? Why should Leavers be made to feel apologetic for their (very reasonable) political persuasion? There is no objective evidence that yet exists that June’s Brexit vote has made Britain a more divisive and racist society. This was an entirely media-driven agenda designed to demonise the 52% and help to construct a dialogue that will encourage dilution or a delaying of the Brexit process. In other words: make us feel bad about our choice and create an atmosphere in which we may have to reconsider. Of course, I do not deny the existence of racism in society, but I do reject continued reactionary associations between Brexit and xenophobia, even if immigration was the main issue for those who voted to leave.

The Labour Party, as was later admitted by Blair’s former speechwriter Andrew Neather, deliberately imposed on the country mass immigration from Europe without giving individuals a say or acknowledging the problems that the policy caused. Brexit, therefore, was the only viable avenue through which members of the public could express understandable dissatisfaction. And since limiting net migration could quite quickly suppress any anti-migrant sentiment across the country, a good argument can be made that Leave voters actually did immigrants living in the UK a favour. Any decrease in the frustration of British people will be welcome news for potential targets, and so by confronting the elephant in the room, Leavers may actually have helped to ease the concerns of foreign-born citizens living in Britain. I have discussed previously at this blog the ways in which limiting immigration will be of considerable benefit to migrants already here. Other examples, besides stemming the tide of resentment, could include easing the demands placed on housing and other public service systems that immigrants in Britain use and pay for. It is therefore worth looking at the bigger picture. Friday’s BBC package ignores the long-term advantages presented to Britain’s foreign-born by Brexit supporters.

The news story is also extremely condescending. Much of the UK’s post-referendum debate has been characterised by hyper-sensitivity. The BBC, in its awe-inspiring wisdom and care for the community, seems to think that migrants in Britain are either entirely unsupportive of an EU withdrawal – which they are not – or that they are incapable of dealing with upcoming political changes and continued integration into society. This proposition would seem to me to be mistaken. Immigrants are, if we remember, among the more brave and resilient members of any society, almost by definition. Certainly the BBC would do well to remember that.


The merits of journalism

I have made a point of not talking about my personal life at this blog, and deliberately so. But, for a purpose you will soon find out, I shall be breaking that rule in this post.

Since September 2014 I have been studying for a degree in journalism. Graduation, if I am so lucky as to pass my dissertation and final portfolio, is this summer. I chose to study journalism for a number of different reasons. Firstly, more so than with most other degrees, skills are transferrable across a wealth of industries. My ability to write, communicate, research and think critically have all markedly improved over the last three years. Secondly, I want to be a person of influence; that being somebody who helps to alter public opinion on a major issue and makes individuals think or re-assess their preconceptions (perhaps the most difficult of my goals to obtain). Journalism gives me the opportunity both now and in the future to carry out research into fields of interest. It is likely that this second reason could be rooted in some sort of personality defect, like a thread of vanity or desire to be centre of attention, but I am at least encouraged that it is a motivating and sincere factor in my professional ambitions. Thirdly, the demands placed on a journalist directly coincide with my character. I am inquisitive, nosey and tend to want to be in possession of knowledge and information that others do not have. I wouldn’t say that this gives me a sense of empowerment, or that I have a strange complex, but I do think that somebody yielding knowledge or information that they have found out is a more interesting and fulfilled person.

During the course of my degree I have networked extremely well, met huge figures in journalism and really expanded the breadth of my knowledge of the trade. It is the importance of maintaining contacts which makes being a journalist so intrinsically useful. Despite the pessimism of so many in the industry, I believe that I will be able to make a living as a journalist. Michael Crick told me some months ago to look at the industry from an entrepreneurial perspective, which I took to mean: ‘try to innovate’. The only real surprise to me is that I didn’t realise sooner in my life (my personality has always stayed relatively consistent) that it was so perfectly tailored to me. Only when I was half way through my A-Levels did it strike me as a potential career option. The question now, though, is not whether it is something I want to do, or whether I think I will be able to do it successfully, but rather why it is worth doing at all. Why should I be a journalist? I see the abuse that journalists receive almost constantly in the modern, digital age. I also see the publications and individuals who besmirch the name of journalism and give it a poor reputation. There is also the problem of journalism’s obligation to impartiality which, when threatened, leads to massive public mistrust of the media; something particularly evident at the BBC.

I am becoming increasingly interested in these issues largely because I think we are ignoring and under appreciating the significance of journalism and the benefits it brings to society. I think that journalism, despite what critics say and the disrepute brought onto it from time to time, is an extremely honourable trade. It always has been at its core and always will be, even during scandals and times of hardship.

Journalism is honourable because it is fundamentally a powerful democratising force. Journalists bridge a vital gap between public figures and events, and those to whom they are held account. Yes, it is true that not all news reported in the press is accurate, and more of it misleading, but the premise remains the same: journalism offers the public a large scrutinising platform and a secure base for informing and organising. This is exceptionally easy to demonstrate.

Take, for instance, the rise of professional blogging. In an essay for the New York Review of Books, Michael Massing wrote that “democratisation and decentralisation are the law of the land”, and that blogging (when it was at its most effective) tore down the power structure of the media. The rise of the blogger highlighted two things: first, the media’s shortcomings, hence the plugging of a gap in the market, and second, the innate desire that people have to inform others and participate in the public arena. Notice that I refer to ‘journalism’ as honourable and not the mainstream media. This is significant as I do not want to appear as if I have contradicted myself. Also note that I am not commending digital advance in this scenario. Journalism is very liquid; it doesn’t stay the same. As time goes on and technology evolves, people find new ways to carry out journalism and the spreading of information. The reason for praising the trade and not digital advance is simple. Journalism is constant, whatever the medium, and will always exist in one form or another. The rise of major, daily national newspapers in the early to mid 19th century was a major democratising leap, as was the introduction of the internet for public use. In each era, the means of communication had changed, but the constant stayed the same. Journalists still produce and distribute reports – the only real difference now is that with changes to revenue streams and the prevalence of 24-hour media we have seen the unfortunate rise of click bait headlines and triviality in the national press.

Most criticism seems to me to be unnecessarily reactionary or based on tribalism. Sporting and political reports, for instance, are incessantly bogged down with accusations of ‘bias’ (which only serves to reflect the partisan nature of both beasts), despite this having no real relevance to the factual integrity of the information provided. The mass hysteria that meets the mainstream media is understandable, no doubt, as people feel that certain narratives aren’t being told and that their interests are not represented adequately enough. But it is crucial that we do not confuse the mass media with journalism (as an art, use or practice). Nothing influences social change, public policy and political debate quite like journalism. The trade, after all, demands that individuals involved are well-connected, politically astute and knowledgeable in their given fields. So there is a lot to be said for the argument that journalism rallies the public through raising awareness to causes and helping to shape perception.

Journalism is a noble counterweight to tyranny. It guides and informs whilst keeping tabs on those who sit in positions of accountability. Journalism, though occasionally defamed, remains a powerful means of social organisation. It is worth bearing this in mind.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Three steps British people must take before we address the NHS’ problems

My personal NHS experiences haven’t been so bad. Thankfully, either through conscious effort or sheer genetic luck, I haven’t had any serious medical concerns over the years, with a little bit of physiotherapy and a brief period of mental health treatment the only real blotches on my medical history. Each time I’ve had to use a clinic, GP surgery or hospital, procedure has been reasonably smooth and staff helpful and reassuring.

For the most part, those who work in our health service do a tremendous job. They work long hours, often far beyond what they are contracted to, and really do make a difference in people’s lives. I sometimes think that, given the NHS’ blatant inefficiencies, it is the efforts of staff alone that help to maintain strong public opinion of the organisation. Even when visiting my local surgery I get a pretty clear picture of the sheer magnitude of demand placed on the health service. I daren’t imagine what hospital winters are like.

Notice first and foremost that I make a distinction between the NHS and its staff. This is done so deliberately, not because I love one and hate the other, but because it makes debating the future of the service a little easier. We have, in the UK, a very real connection to a treasured institution, so any critique can often be dismissed as personal attack or Right-wing irrationality. Getting over this sacred cow treatment and attitude towards healthcare would be the national equivalent of an alcoholic admitting that he is so.

Dr Kristian Niemetz noted in a lengthy overview of the health service for the IEA on December 4th, 2015: “The NHS’ status as a sacrosanct institution promotes ‘groupthink’ and undermines the ability to detect and correct instances of failure, and adapt to changing circumstances.”[1] He is undoubtedly correct. The first step towards injecting the UK’s NHS debate comes from admitting that even something we love so dearly has its problems, and that the sacred cow treatment it receives is damaging and unjustified.

An intriguing report published by the BBC on the problems facing the National Health Service can be read in full here:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-38887694

It is unsurprising to me that our society has such an ingrained attachment towards the main entity in the healthcare sector. Most people alive in Britain today were born on the NHS, have been treated by the NHS and will die on the NHS. But what is bewildering is why, given this affection, we let politicians to this day use it as a political football. Healthcare, after all, is on its own terms a private affair. The NHS was set up in a silent, broken country still reeling from the effects of the Second World War. The idea (however inherently flawed) was that people would have access to care based not on ability to pay, but on clinical need.

So herein lays the second step towards providing the NHS debate with some much needed clarity: we must recognise that the society in which our health service was so proudly set up no longer exists. The country is very different now from the post-war era. Free movement of people has increased overall demand as well as introduced new, complex problems to an already over-burdened service. Health tourism, frequently earmarked by doctors as a major structural and financial problem, is one such issue. It is good that we look after those who need help, regardless of where they are from, but compassion can all too easily fall victim to corruption and exploitation.

The NHS is a public service, and thus is set up for public use. If public dynamics change, such as increases in how long we are living or how rapidly the population is growing, then pubic services must adapt in order to reflect those changes. A stale setup will not suffice in an age where British citizens are used as a cash cow (even those on low incomes pay hundreds in National Insurance) for a service that many now feel does not meet their needs. Public satisfaction is noticeably declining.[2]

A third change in social attitude that must prelude any reasonable proposals to address healthcare in Britain relates to the United States. In the UK, too often we conflate private, market-based healthcare with the widely-condemned American system. This, for two reasons, is an unhelpful conflation that only manages to worsen unwarranted support for maintaining nationalised healthcare.

Firstly, the notion that American healthcare is private is largely a flawed one. The World Bank notes that state spending on healthcare by 2014 had reached just over 17% as a proportion of GDP.[3] Back in July, the U.S government announced that they expected total state healthcare expenditure to rise to $10,365 per head.[4] There is clearly something to be said for the claim that the private sector is at fault for very real faults in American healthcare.

Secondly, using the United States as a projection for market and insurance-based models in the UK ignores the very tangible successes with similar systems in Europe. A BowGroup (respected Conservative think tank and research body) report summarised starkly:

“UK Healthcare continues to be much worse than in Europe. 323 lives are lost per day because we are not matching the best European standards in the three main killers – heart disease, respiratory disease and cancer. That’s 117,743 per year. 85 lives per day (or 30,965 per year) are being lost because we are not even matching EU average standards. Looking at trends over time, there has been no significant improvement over the last 7 years. Another good measure of the quality of healthcare is the survival rate once a disease has been diagnosed. On this measure, the UK is bottom of the league table of Western European countries for cancer survival rates. In fact, you have more chance of surviving lung cancer in Poland, Estonia or Slovakia than you do in the UK. In France, patients are twice as likely to survive lung cancer as they are in the UK. Significantly more money has recently been put into the NHS in the last seven years. But standards are still much lower than in Europe and activity (e.g. number of operations) has not increased. Money alone has not worked.”[5]

It is possibly due to the bureaucratic, centrally organised nature of the NHS that funding is not necessarily put to good use. Left-wing commentators and publications will, from time to time, refer to budgetary cuts as the source of these problems[6], but as studies frequently show, Britain’s successes in dealing with severe illnesses – of which cancer has emerged as a particular problem – have stagnated, likely due to the inevitability of longer waiting times in state-monopolised healthcare systems and irrespective of funding levels.

Europe has quietly managed to avoid the problems that we face by seeing and treating healthcare for what it actually is: a private concern, better organised efficiently than in a way that is necessarily universally liked. So the NHS zealots, which are also found on the Right in surprising numbers, would do well to concentrate on provision on the continent, and stop using America’s woes as a barometer for eternal market failure.

So, ditch the sacred cow treatment, acknowledge the many social changes that have taken place between now and the 1940s, and consider European templates before screeching about U.S healthcare. Only then, if we are to have a rational discussion, can we talk about what to do with the NHS.


Sources:

[1] https://iea.org.uk/publications/research/diagnosis-overrated-an-analysis-of-the-structural-flaws-in-the-nhs

[2] https://www.kingsfund.org.uk/sites/files/kf/BSA-public-satisfaction-NHS-Kings-Fund-2015.pdf

[3] http://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SH.XPD.TOTL.ZS

[4] http://www.pbs.org/newshour/rundown/new-peak-us-health-care-spending-10345-per-person/

[5] https://www.bowgroup.org/sites/bowgroup.uat.pleasetest.co.uk/files/The%252085%2520A%2520Day%2520Who%2520Need%2520Not%2520Die%2520-%2520January%25202005.pdf

[6] https://www.theguardian.com/society/2016/jan/20/nhs-funding-falling-behind-european-neighbours-kings-fund-research

 


Why defeating ISIS in Mosul is only the beginning for Iraq

The operation to liberate the ISIS stronghold of Mosul is underway, and some encouraging progress has already been made. The Iraqi military and the Peshmerga have recaptured a string of villages, including Nawaran and Khalidiya, and coalition forces are closing in on the centre of Mosul, where an intricate tunnelling network and a moat of oil tankers await them.

If all goes well, the offensive will last just a couple of months. Daesh know that they are running out of time and options in Iraq after a succession of heavy defeats. Ramadi, Baquba and Fallujah were all lost this year to strengthened Iraqi Armed Forces and huge efforts have also been made to attack IS communication through social media.

But let us not get ahead of ourselves. The battle ahead is crucial both for the future of Iraq and in the war against international terrorism, but it isn’t going to be as simple as a few territorial gains. Contingency planning must be precise in order to prevent a local backlash and conflict being waged amongst the powers engaged in the pursuit of ISIS.

It is very interesting, for example, that President Erdogan of Turkey has spent quite a bit of time in recent weeks citing the national oath; an oath which demands the restoration of both Kirkuk and Mosul to Turkish rule. Erdogan told the International Law Congress in Istanbul that it was ‘impossible to remain outside the Mosul equation’, and that “a history lies for us. If the gentlemen desire so, let them read the Misak-i Milli (National Oath) and understand what the place means to us.” A map proposed by the 1920 Ottoman oath can be seen here, clearly including large sections of Iraq: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Misak-%C4%B1_Mill%C3%AE#/media/File:Misaki_Milli.jpg

Back in 1926, Turkey and Britain (then the regional colonial power) signed the Ankara Pact, upon the advice of the League of Nations Council, which officially designated Mosul to the newly established state of Iraq. Recep Erdogan, a staunch political conservative who maintains strong domestic support, may well be developing an imperial strategy in Iraq based on his country’s historical political aspirations.

It isn’t as crazy as it may seem. Strategic and territorial Turkish-Iraqi disputes are decades old. Take the case of Bashiqa, a town located 10 miles north of Mosul. Despite strong opposition from Iraq’s government, Turkey maintains a hefty military presence at its base there, and seems more than willing to use its troops to influence the campaign to rid northern Iraq of ISIS.

One side battle, therefore, is how to prevent almost inevitable military conflict brewing between Iraq and an ambitious state of Turkey. The BBC reported just two days ago that “US Secretary of Defence Ash Carter made the point explicitly at the end of last week when, on a visit to Baghdad, he reaffirmed “the vital importance of every country operating with full respect for Iraqi sovereignty”. His words were quite obviously directed at Erdogan. (One has to wonder what the implications for Turkey’s NATO membership would be if territorial goals in Iraq were pursued with vigour over the coming months)

Another battle is more subtle and less likely to be accurately reported on after the offensive is over. Gaining the support of the local population (an objective made harder to achieve by the strategic interests of competing regional powers) is crucial to Mosul’s long-term stability. Patrick Cockburn, one of Britain’s best foreign correspondents, wrote in his book The Rise of Islamic State that ‘the fall of Mosul was the result of a popular uprising as well as military assault. The Iraqi army was detested as a foreign occupying force of Shia soldiers, regarded in Mosul as creatures of an Iranian puppet regime led by Maliki’ (then the shia Prime Minister of Iraq).

Mosul, once a content city of two million Sunni Muslims (more recent population figures are rather difficult to obtain), objected fiercely to being defended by soldiers it regarded as alien. This civil dispute became a handy smokescreen and weakness for ISIS to exploit in the original battle for Mosul in June 2014. Local residents, however wary they were of the Islamic State’s intentions for the city, accepted that as a branch of Sunni Islam they represented the lesser of two evils.

Two years on, though, and it would seem that this is no longer true. The sheer barbarism of ISIS’ regime (recent chemical attacks, the mass execution of citizens and their use as human shields acting as depressing proof of this) has left thousands desperate for liberation. But will Iraqi Armed Forces, directed by the Shia Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi, be able to regain the support of the locals who helped to drive them out two years ago? Will civilians in Mosul instead look to Turkey for solace after several years of disenchantment?

Turkish foreign minister, Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu, revealed recently that his country’s plan was to create a safe haven for refugees in northern Iraq; a move that will certainly heighten Prime Minister Abadi’s sensitivities. Prime Minister Yildirim of Turkey suggested that a haven was necessary in order to protect citizens against what a called ‘a common threat’; namely, the PKK, but it would seem more likely that the policy is designed to grab a piece of the Iraqi pie and maximise influence in an oil-rich and strategically crucial part of the Middle East.

So defeating ISIS in Mosul may well be the easy part. Coordinating the removal of forces and winning over the local population whilst preserving Iraqi sovereignty in Mosul, on the other hand, could be the real battle ahead.


Here’s what really ought to be in Hammond’s Autumn Statement

I look forward to Phillip Hammond’s autumn statement next month. It will, I’m sure, be refreshing to hear a chancellor who isn’t George Osborne promising to meet targets which aren’t possible in order to stabilise an economy which isn’t actually all that strong at all. If his comments at Conservative Party conference yesterday are anything to go by, then we should all hope to receive a dosage of clarity in the political fog in which we now live. Pleased so I was, also, to hear of support for renewed public spending; a term wildly misused and, in practice at least, lop-sided thanks to the frontrunners of the previous government.

Fresh faces inside Number 10 will bring new direction and focus to British government. The unique political situation ahead, namely Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union, presents Hammond with the opportunity to scrap ludicrous pre-referendum economic targets and install newer, more realistic ones. The Treasury has pledged new funding for tech innovation, the biomedical catalyst fund and, thankfully, the building of new homes. Brownfield sites will at long last be pushed forth as centres for new house-building projects in a belated attempt to try and stunt the growth of rapidly-expanding housing bubbles (more on this another time).

These new measures are welcome, but one vital public service, ignored it seems since the London riots of 2011, has been left by the wayside. Earlier this summer, police figures were quietly released and jumped on by the BBC. They were shocking, even for those of us (like me) who do not necessarily relish the prospect of increased public spending. Figures such as those that follow will undoubtedly put the issue of cuts to policing into perspective. Sources are provided both here: http://researchbriefings.files.parliament.uk/documents/SN00634/SN00634.pdf and here: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/544849/hosb0516-police-workforce.pdf

As we can see, in 2003 there were 110,910 frontline police officers, compared with just 106,411  in the year ending March 2016. A reduction of four and a half thousand is magnified by the notable increase in the population between the provided years. ONS estimates show that the UK’s population in 2003 lingered around the 59.7 million mark. By 2016, it had reached more than 65 million. An increase of almost six million people combined with a decrease in the number of frontline officers cannot be considered much of a success, and with the scent of Osborne-induced austerity still lingering in the air and a general public becoming increasingly frustrated with less than proactive police forces, I don’t know how inadequate funding can realistically be continued.

I am distressed that even a severely weakened and distracted Labour Party didn’t make more of an effort to draw attention to them. Writing as somebody who is related to police officers from two different police forces, I have seen for myself the effect that the cuts have had on individual frontline officers. The numbers highlighting sick leave are staggering, but not altogether surprising. They suggest to me that in all the babbling about crime figures and whether modest decreases justify piercing cuts to police forces, a more physical and emotional price is being paid by those serving on the streets. If you speak to police officers, most are one or more of fatigued, suffering from mental breakdown, demoralised or in chronic muscle or joint pain. It would seem reasonable to me to suggest that due to a sharp decline in the number of frontline officers, most still serving feel overworked and stressed as a result. This BBC report http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-37530914 into the current state of officers in Scotland is particularly eye opening.

But the effects of the cuts aside, it now seems most opportune to try and undo some of the damage done to our police forces with autumn’s upcoming statement. I don’t think policing will feature in the budget, but I consider it to be a top priority for the government. Cuts to police budgets have failed officers, the public and left trainees without employment hopes. Austerity has always been a disaster in the past, and is likely to be just as harmful in the future. Notice that it hasn’t brought about the recovery it was predicted to after the coalition government was formed. Notice also, that it tends to be supported by the rich, not the poor. You don’t have to be Left-wing to oppose austerity. I oppose it. Firstly, because it encourages economies to shrink (remember that national debt is relative to GDP), secondly, because it is grossly unfair to workers on the lower end of the income scale (particularly those who work in public services, who end up losing their jobs) and thirdly, it has had a crippling effect on fellow European Union members. Has austerity actually worked anywhere?

Philip Hammond is in a unique position as British chancellor. He is arguably under less pressure than any chancellor in recent memory. Despite crippling austerity measures, Osborne’s recovery was the slowest on record, and the public are fully aware that an EU departure will present bumps in the road to come. Here lie Hammond’s excuses in the event of economic failure. Even the opposition party back his plans to increase borrowing and ditch budget surplus targets. All the stars have aligned for Mr Hammond to really make his mark on British politics.