Category Archives: Journalism

Dear Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees

I wish Leftist politicians would stop lumping me in with all the other, equally Leftist students in this depressing General Election. Specifically, I don’t like to hear Jeremy Corbyn talk about tuition fees as if all students are utterly appalled by them.

He did it last night during his relatively underwhelming Question Time performance. He reiterated his desire for national funding in education before making the false claim that “the number of people from disadvantaged backgrounds going to university has gone down”.

Naturally, he attributed this trend to the introduction of and rises in the cost of tuition fees. Though immediately after he said this, ‘Full Fact’ rebutted his nonsensical claim, saying:

“There are a number of ways to measure what a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ is, but on all UCAS measures young students from disadvantaged groups in England are more likely to go to university now than any other year on record.”

The reference to England is particularly interesting when you compare it to its historically hostile northern neighbour, Scotland. In May 2016, the Sutton Trust, a distinguished education agency, published a report entitled Access in Scotland, in which they found:

“The gap in university participation between young people from the most and least advantaged areas is higher in Scotland than in the other home nations. Scottish 18 year olds from the most advantaged areas are still more than four times more likely to go straight to university than those from the least advantaged areas.  In England, those from the most advantaged areas are 2.4 times as likely to go to university as those from the least, and three times as likely in Wales and Northern Ireland.”

Scotland, unlike the rest of the United Kingdom, does not charge its home students tuition fees. It seems that where tuition fees are implemented, the proportion of ‘disadvantaged pupils’ (of which I am one) attending universities actually increases.

By scrapping tuition fees, as the Labour Party plans at the cost of £8bn per year (according to the IFS), they propose not only a subsidy for the rich, but a strangulation on university funding, which relies largely on fees across both undergraduate and postgraduate study. It is unclear that, with existing cuts to teaching budgets already made, scrapping fees will not be adequately compensated for.

Research by ‘The Russell Group’ showed that between 1989 and 2005, ‘government funding did not keep pace with increasing student numbers, leading to a 40% fall in funding per student’. Even in light of compelling evidence, I do admit that funding caps have not been kept even with the rate of inflation, which has started to see decline in real term funding gains.

There is therefore a stronger argument for increases to fees than there is to scrapping them altogether. Fears over under-admitting students from poorer backgrounds simply haven’t been realised. The reality has been that tuition fees have increased ‘per student’ funding and improved the quality of education for the disadvantaged, with repayments organised on the basis of post-study income.

The system is fair as we look at things. Education cannot be free, as the Left often claim it ought to be. There is a bill to be paid, and it is a question of who pays and for whom. It is not acceptable for working taxpayers to pay for the education of students from wealthy families. And why should others pay for my degree? They do not benefit. I benefit. And thus, I should foot the bill for my studies.

My current student debt sits at £36,000 when additional, supplementary loans are factored in. I am classified by government as a ‘disadvantaged pupil’ by income measure. My journalism degree has just concluded, but when I was studying, I constantly reminded myself of the costs of study.

Tuition fees didn’t put me off or make me want to drop out in order to avoid large, growing debts. They actually had the opposite effect on me psychologically. Fees galvanised me, reminding me of the price I would pay and that I should strive to get as much out of university as I possibly could. I do not pretend to represent all students (especially as a Right-wing conservative), but I suspect I am not the only student who experienced this.

The Labour leader has repeatedly referred to his party’s manifesto as a careful and well-considered document that is both fully costed and a positive alternative for the country. Though as far as university funding is concerned, I don’t think students should see it this way.

Students may be dismayed by the prospect of sizeable debts, but they ought to consider the factors that I have outlined above. The national conversation about the costs of tuition tends to imply that scrapping fees is a policy that students universally agree with and one that will encourage poorer students to embark upon Higher Education. Neither claim is the case.

Mr Corbyn, hands off my tuition fees.

Why Nigel Farage deserves a knighthood

It is clear to me now why Nigel Farage gives much better political interviews than he does personal ones. Last night’s ‘Life Stories’ with Piers Morgan highlighted Mr Farage’s understandable hesitancy with regards to talking about his private life, despite the host’s repeated and reasonable attempts to extract the juice from him. For that reason, I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I was going to.

The former UKIP leader teased the audience with mentions of his relatives and those in his personal life, but kept his guard up and refused to be drawn into lengthy, informative storytelling. Perhaps ironically, Farage was at his most emotive and engaging when asked about topics he explicitly did not wish to discuss (like accusations of racism). Mr Farage’s personal life and professional rise are extremely interesting, and I felt he should have expanded upon some of the more personal aspects to his interview. I invite readers at this blog to watch the hour-long show for themselves and let me know what they thought in the comments below.

Towards the end of the show, however, the question over his future was raised. I was reminded, as Morgan asked him about his future plans, by Thursday night’s Question Time discussion on the issue of a potential knighthood (on which I should add that I completely believe that a Farage knighthood was blocked by his public nemesis Douglas Carswell). It would seem to me entirely reasonable for Nigel to be knighted given his standing as this generation’s most impactful and important politician.

And yes, he is a politician, much as he may pretend not to be. His impression on Britain’s political climate outweighs even that of Tony Blair’s. Liberals on both sides of the spectrum utterly despise him, but he retains significant support amongst older voters and traditional English, patriotic conservatives (a bracket that includes many Labour voters, we often forget).

Mr Farage deserves a knighthood because he truly embodies what it means to be a difference maker. His legacy is far more profound than that of most world leaders. He exudes a determination not seen in other political figures and his role in directing the single biggest democratic decision taken by British people can’t be overstated. He sacrificed his reputation and time with his family for a single goal that, against all the odds, he is on the cusp of achieving. It is hard to name a politician more driven and more focused, and one who overachieved in such a manner. It is indeed what public service is really all about.

I have met him several times, always surrounded by others and never getting the opportunity to get to know him, and each time I bumped into him (which included two public meetings, a Leave rally in Bromley and an occasion where he came into Vote Leave HQ to speak with Dominic Cummings) I was astounded by his stamina. He’d give up his time to talk to just about any curious passerby if it meant furthering his dream of Britain leaving the European Union. It was really quite inspiring.

Of course, his opponents will look to his stance on immigration and apparent status as flag bearer for the alt-right as an argument against a knighthood. I think this is nonsense. Mr Farage opened up the immigration debate at a time when nobody else even dared to, which proved beneficial for the country and especially for the silent (as we now know) majority who were left sidelined by the establishment parties they thought they could trust.

Also, it does not make sense to politicise and categorise the requirement criteria for a knighthood in this way. In doing so, we allow only for a certain kind of person with a certain batch of views to be given knighthoods. If the honours system does not facilitate the inclusion of a man who did more for Brexit than just about anybody else, then what exactly is it for? Knighthoods must recognise achievement – they should not be the plaything of metropolitan liberals.

It is also true that Mr Farage should be awarded a knighthood and not a peerage. As we have already discussed at this blog, peerages have been devalued almost beyond grief. They are handed out like sweets to well-behaved children and tend to be awarded for the purpose of political posturing. Governments increasingly create Peers out of nothing simply to boost the chances of their legislation being approved by the Upper House.

A knighthood symbolises exceptional achievement, and nobody – not trendy, mainstream celebrities or campus Lefties – can argue that Mr Farage’s efforts in creating the conditions through with Britain voted to leave the European Union were not an exceptional achievement. He cleverly forged an unbreakable link between mass immigration, which frustrated many communities in the country, and membership of the EU. Had he not tied those two issues together, the UK would not be on the brink of triggering Article 50.

All the pieces are in place. Mr Farage meets the criteria for receipt, the arguments against are personal and petulant, and the honours system needs a figure of his magnitude to truly validate itself. Even The Queen, said to be herself a supporter of Brexit, would be up for it I’m sure.

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.