Take sex education out of the classroom and restore it where it belongs

Being just 21 years old, I well remember my secondary school education. I often walk past the school I went to, bilateral (operating grammar and comprehensive systems simultaneously) and located in the north of Kent.

Thinking about school brings back many great memories. I was one of those children who loved going to school. I enjoyed quite a number of subjects, though was only good at a select few, and forged a group of close friends, with whom I am still in frequent contact today.

This week I was again reminded of secondary school by an interesting study linking state initiatives with teenage pregnancy published in the Journal of Health Economics and reported on by ‘The Times’. It highlighted the findings of David Paton and Liam Wright, of the universities of Nottingham and Sheffield respectively, who concluded (the emphasis is mine):

“There are arguments to suggest that the impact [of the cuts] on teenage pregnancy may be not as bad as feared and, indeed, that spending on projects relating to teenage pregnancy may even be counterproductive. Put simply, birth control will reduce the risk of pregnancy for sex acts which would have occurred anyway. But [it] may increase the risk among teenagers who are induced by easier access to birth control either to start having sex or to have sex more frequently.’

Can anybody seriously claim that they are surprised by these findings? If they are, they have not been following events too closely. A similar study, published thirteen years ago by the Family Education Trust, found that areas of the country experiencing high teenage pregnancy rates also played host to the most teenage pregnancy projects.

So, it seems, the more we talk to teenagers about sex, normalise the process and illustrate how it can be had more safely, the more they will do it. And this conclusion took the work of distinguished professors to reach? It is not rocket science.

The main problem with, for instance, sex education has always been that it further chips away at the sanctity of sex; something I have always argued against removing. Sex is, by its very nature, a powerful and private thing, and can come with quite horrid, unforeseen consequences if not engaged in appropriately or at the right time.

Sex education implies that excessive experimentation is inevitable, which it shouldn’t necessarily have to be, and that by introducing it at school, teenagers will effectively be taught how to channel their sexual desires.

These desires may be natural, but extortionate levels of transmitted diseases, abortions and teenage pregnancies are not. They are the result of a 1960s cultural and sexual revolution that promoted the ideals of individualism over those of a social conscience and restraint.

Cultural change isn’t easily changed or reversed, but schools have proven to be an incompetent and inappropriate source of direction for students susceptible to the problems of sex. It should always have been the duty of parents to talk to their children about sexual health and etiquette. Those who avoid this are bad parents.

I remember distinctly, too, how uncomfortable it made students who were more restrained and quiet, a little shier and less eager to talk about such things. Many of my old classmates did not find the experience to be anything other than embarrassing and uncomfortable.

I now appreciate the concerns that they had and wish I had been of clear enough mind to raise the issue whilst at school. Sex education is grotesque, gimmicky nonsense that has, like most government initiatives, proven to counter-productive. It ought to be removed from the school curriculum in the next parliament.

 

 


First impressions of soldiers on our capital’s streets

I knew that at some point I would be referring to this blog to talk about the deployment of British soldiers in London. I wanted to wait until I had spent a reasonable amount of time in the capital in order to appropriately communicate my thoughts on their presence and what it means for public policy.

Yesterday (Sunday 28th May), I got my chance. I spent what was quite a lovely, if not rain-soaked, afternoon with a female friend in and around Westminster. Originally, we had planned to go on the London Eye, but since the weather made this a little implausible, we headed for the National Gallery and dinner instead.

Before meeting, I walked to Whitechapel via Buckingham Palace Road and The Mall, having been re-routed to London Victoria by limits on Southeastern train services. I got to examine our ‘Paras’ stationed in strategic locations, most notably either side of the front face of Buckingham Palace, at gated side entrances and exits, outside Downing Street and around Westminster Palace.

I was interested in taking a look at this intriguing new development because I wanted to gauge, firstly, whether the introduction of the British Armed Forces to the streets of London would make me, a Londoner, feel safer in the city that I love, and secondly, what kind of impression it would give of Britain’s security and counter-terrorism efforts.

The answer to my first question came very quickly. It did not make me feel safer (and that is not to say that I felt particularly unsafe to begin with). Terrorism is a distant, muted fear in the back of my mind when going about my business in busy commuter and tourist hotspots, but I am usually able to effectively repress any needless overthinking or stress.

I spent some time watching every soldier I spotted. Most appeared utterly bored by the whole ordeal, as I would imagine is the overriding emotion after standing in the same spot watching people for hours on end. Others were entertaining themselves through mild conversation with accompanying police officers (it might be worth asking why we didn’t just reverse cuts and invest in more officers to begin with).

Please don’t think I am attacking individual Paras, but what struck me most was how static and distracted they seemed. They are exceptionally well trained and will, I’m sure, give their utmost to protect citizens in the likely event of more jihadism. But they certainly didn’t make me feel any safer.

If anything, the presence of troops stands as evidence of the now blatant failure of deep cuts to police budgets. This has been made exponentially worse by a sizeable increase in the UK’s population and alterations to the national terror threat level.

French troops were deployed on the streets of Paris many moons ago and we can hardly assert that incidents of terrorism are less likely to take place, if we have been paying attention to anything over the last two years. Any reasonable betting man will also conclude that more attacks are on their way, whether London is cluttered with British Army regiments or not.

Furthermore, what of Manchester? Or Birmingham? Or other major British cities otherwise excluded from the nation’s Westminster-dominated political consensus? Will they be supplemented with soldiers that make them look as vulnerable, violent and incapable of civil defence as the more corrupt corners of Africa and Eastern Europe? I hope not. There are better solutions available to us.

I do think that most of the support their mobilisation this week received was down either to tribal, instinctive support for the country’s foremost line of defence, or to the fact that most people consider soldiers to be exotic and a rare spectacle, which I think explains the craving that many have to take pictures with them and attend various community events and displays.

As a patriot, I admit to sharing in the glamorous appeal that the British Armed Forces retain. I have huge admiration for their skill and bravery. Just not for the decision to station them in predictable and already robustly defended parts of the capital.

Military presence, despite the talent and authority of the individuals on guard, has the ironic effect of making the country look a little weak; frightened into action by jihadists the government isn’t strong enough to take care of by itself.

It violates the country’s most profound value: liberty. Historical accounts tell me that we were once a free, calm country and one not easily panicked at home, but increasingly we seem troubled and unfree. I think this is worth pondering.

Deportations are in order where legally possible, prisons and mosques are in need of thorough combings in the search for radicalising forces and the long, slow path back from the perils of multiculturalism must too be forged. Soldiers, though, could well prove to be a non-answer to a very complicated problem.

And when terrorism once again meets the streets of London, perhaps even Westminster, you’ll see what I mean.


Jump on the May bandwagon? Count me out

The more I think about it, the more I respect the Tory campaigning strategy ahead of this General Election. The Prime Minister and her advisors have succeeded in making this campaign all about her. It’s all about her, ‘Team Theresa’, where every vote for her strengthens her hand in negotiations with the European Union.

It is, of course, a false trail. Our negotiations with the other EU states will depend largely on their mobilisation, not ours. I say I respect the personality tactic because it is effective in highlighting Jeremy Corbyn’s glaring leadership weaknesses. It pits ‘Strong and Stable’ May (she is anything but) against the hapless Labour leader. This point was made rather well by my friend Charlie Peters on Sky News this morning.

Well, I for one will not be jumping on the May bandwagon anytime soon. She is not the visionary architect of the new, third era in post-war British politics. I am particularly disturbed by the artificial and vacuous term ‘Mayism’, which as the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, is not actually a thing. Mayism is in fact the name that has been donated to the political changes forced by massive swings in public opinion over the last few years.

These changes are characterised primarily by distinct mistrust in markets and disillusionment with neoliberal capitalism (fuelled predominantly by the 2008 financial crash) and Left wing social projects like mass immigration and multiculturalism. Latching on to these sentiments, Mrs May is, if anything, an opportunist.

She is not the driver of anything. In many ways, she is in an unfortunate, subordinated position. She is seeking election on a premise that she fundamentally disagrees with, will no doubt find herself at the mercy of other European leaders and unprecedented Tory polling leads mean that she can only hope to decrease the population’s margin of support for the Conservative Party. Her legacy will not sound or look anything like the one she envisaged when she entered the political arena back in the 1990s.

And if we look, the process is already under way. Her proposed changes to the funding of social care are already frightening many pensioners into abandoning the blue corner in favour of the red one. You can hardly blame them. May has for some time appeared strikingly untrustworthy, showcased by several U-turns (which are neither strong nor stable) and her abysmal track record on issues like immigration and personal liberties.

Immigration stands as the largest blemish on her political record. She echoed conservative sentiments against mass migration at Conservative Party conference a couple of years ago, which prompted quite a backlash, but didn’t even try to do anything reasonable about it in government, refusing even to campaign for a Leave vote during the referendum campaign. May is not interested in sovereignty. But, now that she has the chance, she does want to be the Prime Minister that manages to drastically cut net migration figures (though this will more difficult to achieve than most expect).

She is a renowned opponent of free speech and has a dark authoritarian streak within her. Spiked have produced some useful compendiums of some of her political interferences with freedom of expression both here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/theresa-may-the-new-prime-minister-grave-threat-to-freedom/18547#.WSL_Xuvyvcs and here: http://www.spiked-online.com/newsite/article/dont-look-to-theresa-may-to-defend-freedom/19602#.WSL_8uvyvcs, detailing her barring of citizens she deemed ‘not conducive to the public good’ and providing Ofcom with powers to block any TV content it considered ‘extreme’.

This is without mentioning her overseeing of the Investigatory Powers Bill, which received Royal Assent last November and threatens our online privacy, and Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 which stands to regulate the British press through an independent body known as Impress and would no doubt have been passed by both Houses had a snap General Election not been called.

Her record as Home Secretary was also marred by her disgraceful treatment of police forces, which have been shredded beyond belief by needless austerity measures during a period that has seen massive population growth. (I wrote on this some months ago; the statistics on frontline police numbers in England and Wales alone are nothing short of remarkable: https://norgroveblog.com/2016/10/04/heres-what-really-ought-to-be-in-hammonds-autumn-statement/)

At the time, she tried to defend a policy of deep cuts by suggesting that more could be done with less, and that since crime statistics (which are hard to analyse due to changes in police action and thresholds for prosecution) were falling, more police officers were not needed. But since crime is an iceberg issue, this argument is fatuous. Lower recorded crime does not necessarily mean less crime. If there is a lower police presence on the streets, correspondingly less crime will be seen and dealt with.

Her political blunders over the years only further dispel the myth that she represents strength and stability in government. In her 10 months as Prime Minister, she has U-turned on a number of significant issues, like a rise in National Insurance contributions for self-employed workers and the holding of a snap General Election. If Mrs May has shown anything in her premiership so far, it is that we ought not to take her word for very much.

I have decided not to participate in this election, other than through this blog as an independent. I shan’t be campaigning for any party and will not cast a ballot either. Politics for me will resume once the country has parted ways with the European Union.

 

 


All together now…there are more than two types of production ownership

A fascinating YouGov poll entitled ‘Nationalisation vs Privatisation: the public view’ has been published, with results in brief accessible here: https://yougov.co.uk/news/2017/05/19/nationalisation-vs-privatisation-public-view/ and a more detailed, in-depth table here: https://d25d2506sfb94s.cloudfront.net/cumulus_uploads/document/uufxmyd8qm/InternalResults_170518_nationalisation_privatisation_W.pdf that showcase the country’s views on ownership of several of the country’s most important industries.

It is a relatively mixed bag produced by a cross-party sample of slightly fewer than 2,000 adults. Some results, such as the substantial support for renationalising the energy companies and privatisation of the telephone and internet providers, surprised me. Others, like the tiny percentage in favour of privatising the NHS, did not.

I like studying polls of this sort because they offer quite a clear picture of the economic consensus embedded in the population. I have a feeling that much of the growing support for state involvement in major sectors of the economy is down to a mistrust of the market; exacerbated by both the 2008 financial crash and other consequences of the neo-liberal period, such as the ripping apart of the middle class.

Admittedly, the sample is quite small, but I don’t think larger samples would suggest that this poll is especially anomalous. It appears to me that the country has steered slightly to the Left on the economy, but since most do not think in terms of ideology, it means very little for Jeremy Corbyn’s electoral prospects. A party breakdown of beliefs is provided and yields quite interesting results. Labour and Tory voters, more alike on policy issues than they will ever care to admit, are most sharply divided over rail ownership.

There is, though, something else about polling such as this that concerns me. The title of it and the options given to those who took part are very misleading and assume that only two different kinds of production ownership exist. It is crucial for the sake of informing political debate over public policy that people are reminded of the forgotten third option. The means of production in a society can be arranged through nationalisation, privatisation or worker control of industry; which can itself be described as the very core of socialism, where producers take control of production.

Omitting the third option in polling is to be understood, of course. Adding in ‘worker control of industry’ may create unnecessary confusion and boost the likelihood of a ‘don’t know’ response. But polling is not the only incentive for this post. This past week, the country’s major parties have all released their manifestos ahead of next month’s General Election.

Much of the commentary since particularly the Labour and Tory manifesto reveals has circulated around whether or not Britain can afford to renationalise certain sectors of the economy and whether it is a viable solution to the problems we are facing. Plans to bring the Royal Mail, railways and National Grid back under public ownership, as well as introducing a National Investment Bank and National Education Service, have prompted misleading newspaper headlines about the 1970s and the now conventional bashing of state socialism, which is less electable than it has ever been (in part due to the UK’s staggering levels of public debt).

Direct worker control of industry, therefore, ought not to be left out of public debate because it may represent the alternative to neoliberal capitalism that the Left has been searching for over the last forty years. The Labour Party of the last two years has openly referred to itself as a socialist party, so why doesn’t it support producers taking control of production instead of managing industry itself?

As long as the Left pushes for government programs which increase borrowing, public spending and taxes, it will not be able to formulate a constructive alternative to neoliberalism. It must recognise the value in low-tax, democratising policies like worker control of industry if it is to avoid further swelling of our national debt and more hits to its voter base.

I make no comment about whether worker control of industry is preferable in each individual sector or to the efficiency of production as a whole. To make judgement would be difficult at this stage. I also reaffirm that I am not a socialist. I merely think clarification is useful where it is not being applied by politicians or by the media.


This election is oh so depressing

I am profoundly jealous of anybody who found an excuse not to watch yesterday’s pitiful TV debate between five of the country’s most uninspiring party leaders. I didn’t watch it expecting to be anything other than dismayed at the growing pile of political deadwood we now have in Britain.

It is made infinitely worse by how similar they all look. Tim Farron, Nicola Sturgeon, Leanne Wood and Caroline Lucas are as irritating as they are indistinguishable from one another. They all, as far as I can see, have exactly the same beliefs.

They all sneer at the prospect of Britain being a self-governing, sovereign country once more. They all despise grammar schools whilst refusing to acknowledge the kinds of selection brought about by the massive and failed comprehensive experiment in education. They all support mass, uncontrolled immigration and the egalitarian wonders of multiculturalism.

But there is something else that unites them all so glaringly: none of them are even remotely electable. I am still surprised that broadcast time was allocated to them, given that the total number of MPs in England represented was 10 and neither of the two major parties took part.

Paul Nuttall, mediocre and paling in comparison to the charisma of Nigel Farage, stuck out, but that was to be expected from a UKIP candidate. It is time for their members to accept the now painfully obvious fact that they are no longer a purposeful or serious electoral force.

As always with these totally overhyped and underwhelming affairs, we were treated to two hours of spin from the Public Relations industry, whose agencies write the scripts and formulate the annoying slogans and soundbites that the live and televised audiences are showered with.

That, added to the fact that we already know which party will be victorious on June 8th, only helps to make this whole thing so utterly depressing. I now see the logic behind holding a snap General Election more clearly. The mobilisation of the non-blue parties was forced and feels so rushed and obligatory.

I wrote a few weeks ago that this election was a second referendum in disguise. I still hold that view, but I can’t describe myself as unsure about the result. Like readers, I know what will happen. The Conservative Party will expand on its majority, by perhaps 50 seats, the country will forget about the fraud it was proven to have committed during the 2015 General Election campaign and Theresa May will lead the country into its third post-war political era, whatever it hopes to look like.

(More on Theresa May very soon.)

The Tories, of course, don’t need to participate in meaningless debates, which I actually disagree with on the grounds that they reflect presidential systems and the UK’s localised, parliamentary format. I may not even feel it necessary to vote for them, since my constituency (Bexleyheath and Crayford) is both Leave-supporting and a relatively safe Conservative seat. After toying with this election for a few weeks, I now realise that there is simply no real need for me to vote.

For Labour, the principle target now ought to be to convince as many of its traditional voters as possible not to jump ship or abstain. Their defeat in June is inevitable, but a turnaround in the coming years (as we saw back in the 1990s) is more than possible. Much will depend upon who succeeds Mr Corbyn as leader later this year, provided of course, that he agrees to step down.

This election is a realisation of three things. Firstly, the neo-liberal consensus has been irrevocably altered. Secondly, the Conservative Party are embarking upon their second era of parliamentary dominance in the last forty years. And thirdly, that Brexit is now a Tory plaything; a policy they have total control over in Westminster and almost no yearning for in Brussels.

I left the party for a reason I am now sharply reminded of. I just can’t bring myself to trust them.


The right to smoke does not equal the right to vote

It is striking to me that Theresa May has said something so straightforwardly sensible in reaffirming her wish for the voting age to remain at 18. I had always been under the impression that, given the dwindling interest in voting and sharp decline in participation over the years, politicians would be looking to 16 and 17 year olds to help beef up turnout by now.

She needn’t have bothered trying to rally the youth ahead of this election. Mrs May doesn’t exactly possess the charm that Nick Clegg displayed in attracting the youth vote during the 2010 General Election campaign, when he promised to scrap tuition fees upon getting into government.

The Tories would have just as much success rebranding themselves as the British Communist Party. Young people consistently show Left wing, liberal biases, and remain far more at home in the Labour Party or Liberal Democrats, at least until they enter the world of work and become taxpaying citizens.

I do enjoy the usual string of arguments deployed by those in favour of lowering the voting age. Especially humorous is the idea that because 16 and 17 year olds can smoke or drive they ought to be offered the vote in order to align rights with responsibilities.

Smoking and driving do not have anywhere near the impact upon public policy that voting can have, and 16 and 17 years by and large do not have the wisdom or knowledge that older voters do. Many will vote according to their parents’ biases, and not on the backs of independent thought or comparison.

It is at least a reminder that we don’t really have any coherent societal position on what exactly our ‘rights’ are. Of course, I appreciate the nuances in this argument. A 17 year old who turns 18 in July of this year might contend that he or she doesn’t lack the wisdom or knowledge of somebody a month older, and that person would probably be right.

But we need to draw lines somewhere. If we extend this argument, we can quite reasonably ask why 15 year olds ought not to be given the vote straight afterwards. It is a bottomless pit that creates nothing but problems and is never forwarded consistently.

The Prime Minister is, though, right when she claims that there are plenty of other ways to become active in politics, though the examples she gave (youth parliaments and councillors) were horrendously uninspiring. I myself used the lure of the summer’s referendum to do so, and with great personal benefits.

Most democratisation has absolutely nothing to do with government. It is arguably the workplace that is in most need of a little more democracy, since that is where adults spend most of their daily lives. I have been encouraged, for instance, by the slow growth in worker owned cooperatives in tiny pockets of the west.

Germany and Denmark operate thousands of successful, communal energy cooperatives, with many able to invest in renewable sources without the clouds of political forces hanging over their heads. A large network of worker owned enterprises has shielded Mondragon, in Spain’s Basque region, from the worst of the country’s economic hardship.

The vote often achieves very little in the way of democratisation. This is particularly so when a largely uncaring base are offered it. On the 11th November 2016, Darragh O’Reilly, a Northern Irish member of the UK’s Youth Parliament, laughably claimed in a parliamentary sitting:

“I tell you this: votes at 16 is no one-trick pony. It is nothing short of handing young people the freedom to achieve freedom. The freedom actually to fund the NHS. The freedom actually to have a decent transport system. The freedom to tackle racism.”

His statement was an enjoyable soundbite and I admire his genuine passion, but his view is baseless and most his age simply aren’t politically enfranchised. And of course no emotive political statement would be complete without a reference to the National Health Service.

Just like most other proponents of lowering the voting age, he dressed up its importance to be something other than what it actually is: a gimmick. If a genuine campaign were to emerge proposing to allow 16 and 17 year olds in the Armed Forces alone the vote, then I would be much more interested (and likely to agree).

Until then, Theresa May is correct to ensure that the voting age stays where it is. Britain is a one-party state and appears to have entered its second era of Tory dominance in the past forty years.

And 16 year olds aren’t about to change that.


Reflections on railway renationalisation and a Tory Brexit

My apologies, firstly, to readers for the general inactivity at the blog since the middle of April. This has been down to juggling work at a new job and the completion of my journalism dissertation, which I submitted on Thursday evening.

My hope is to achieve the 2.1 that will allow me to continue my studies into Masters level, with my eyes currently set upon an MSc at Royal Holloway in ‘Campaigns, Elections and Democracy’. I should now hope to return here frequently for the foreseeable future.

In my absence, this year’s General Election has gotten under way. A portion of the Labour Party’s manifesto has been leaked, and thanks to pledges to renationalise the railways, Royal Mail and energy sector, has been described as taking the UK ‘back to the 1970s’.

It may be worth remembering for a moment that Germany, a modern and well-run country, operates nationalised rail and worker-run energy co-operatives. Northern Ireland, too, (incidentally a part of the UK) retains public control of its rail system.

For the record, I don’t support renationalising Britain’s energy sector, but local, energy co-operatives, similar to those that exist on the continent do not sound like such a bad idea. I do admit to succumbing to the appeal of democratic ownership of utilities and co-operative privatisation (worker control of industry) of Royal Mail may be popular amongst postmen and women.

As far as our railways go, the ongoing debate around public and private ownership would seem to me to be a secondary issue. The primary issue is upgrading infrastructure and investment, and cancelling the vast amounts of money we seem keen to spend on vanity projects like HS2, which stands only to increase London’s workforce and damage the rural environment of the midlands. Any strong government ought to, by now, have scrapped such madness.

Britain’s rail infrastructure is predominantly Victorian and not entirely electrified, much to our national embarrassment. The billions put aside for HS2 should be re-directed towards modernising track and signalling, and towards investing in more medium-speed, medium-distance inter-city railway lines. London is too often used as a connecting city for long-distance travellers making their way across the country (and often finding themselves paying extortionate amounts).

The question of who owns rail services is made less important still by the fact that there need not be one single system of ownership, as demonstrated by the state operating of the East Coast mainline until March 2015. Britain’s rail system is not only franchised, it is regionalised, which means that, with very few exceptions, services are all co-ordinated independently of one another. The state can retain ownership of some lines whilst allowing for others to be run privately, depending on factors like performance and quality of service.

Immediate renationalisation would not make the running of rail services particularly cheap. As I have said, it is the cost of maintaining infrastructure, due to its age, that sets the cost of British rail travel above that of the rest of the continent. Upgrades to infrastructure ought to be at the centre of any debate about Britain’s railways and present a far more pressing concern than discussions over ownership.

I will not vote for the Labour Party on June 8th, but the aforementioned leaked manifesto content doesn’t look to me as if it will take us back forty years. This is merely dishonest Tory propaganda, no doubt aided by the incompetence of figures like Diane Abbott, who do nothing but discredit the Left and its labour movement.

Meanwhile, the Tories sit firmly in the driver’s seat of this election. They are rightly standing on a platform of seeing out the Brexit process, but of course, they are doing it for the wrong reasons. Many of them do not support out withdrawal from the European Union and thoroughly resent last summer’s referendum result. My vote for them in June (if I bother or indeed remember) will be more out of obligation than anything else.

I am at least glad that the Liberal Democrat leader this time around is Tim Farron, and not a young and fresh Nick Clegg, who managed to sweet talk the country into voting for him seven years ago. Thanks to Farron’s confusing position as leader of a party with which he has profound moral disagreements, the Lib Dems are not quite the force they could be.

Knowing that I was an adamant leaver, some readers might think that I am relieved the Tories are in poll position to win this General Election. This is not quite so. Something about the party’s (and indeed the Prime Minister’s) track record over the European question is cause for concern in my mind.

A couple of days ago, David Cameron made a comment that sparked some degree of doubt in my mind. He said that Mrs May needs a big majority so that she can “stand up to the people who want an extreme Brexit, either here or in Brussels.” It is a shame that UKIP can no longer muster the strength that it did back in 2014.

UKIP formed the ideal barricade against sentiments of this kind within the Conservative Party. There are many who call themselves conservatives, despite their continued existence that Britain should not govern itself and control its own affairs, who are fanatically supportive of the European project and of ceding parliamentary sovereignty.

When these people (Michael Heseltine, Ken Clarke, Nicky Morgan and George Osborne to name a few others) use the expression ‘extreme Brexit’, they demonise the reasonable belief held by large sects of the country, including especially much of the Tory grassroots, that the United Kingdom should control its own trade, borders, lawmaking and judicial process, no matter the difficulties which undoubtedly lie ahead.

Mr Cameron’s comments reminded me that placing complete trust in the Tories and giving them a free hand over such an important issue might not be advisable after all. We’ve heard ‘Theresa May’s hard Brexit’ quite a lot in recent months, but increasingly my fear is that when it is all said and done, Britain will no longer be halfway in the EU. Instead, she may find herself perching halfway out in what will look like an especially embarrassing position.


Immediate reflections on 2017’s General Election

I suppose it made sense in the end, in spite of Mrs May’s repeated claims that there would be no early General Election. Polls were warning us for weeks that it might happen, and those warnings were only growing sterner.

And let us not pretend that the Prime Minister needed yet another mandate in order to carry out Britain’s departure from the European Union; we had a clear enough one already to those who bother to pay attention.

This decision was fundamentally, and shrewdly, party political. But it could turn into a whole lot more than that. Since Brexit is now the hallmark of British politics, I expect the upcoming campaign to be a proxy; a second referendum of sorts.

But, more than that, yesterday’s announcement from Michael Crick may have been just as important. The Crown Prosecution Service, he wrote, will investigate up to 30 Conservative MPs for electoral fraud at the 2015 General Election.

I think this will have played a role in forming Theresa May’s decision to hold a quickfire election. Her advisors are acutely aware of proceedings, and presumably, if the CPS’ investigation had led to the sacking of up to 30 Tory MPs, an election would have been thrown together anyway.

And so, regardless of the motive, we have another General Election on June 8th. I have mixed feelings towards elections. I find election night immensely thrilling to watch unfold, but there is no denying that these events are merely public relations extravaganzas.

In particular, I am dreading the prospect of listening to the Liberal Democrats droning on about remaining in the European Union for the next eight weeks, though of course, it would be wise from en electoral perspective for them to do so.

If they mobilise effectively, and their rapid membership growth since yesterday morning’s announcement suggests they may, the Lib Dems could use this year’s election to become the government’s co-opposition, or in the case of an almighty shock, the opposition.

Yesterday a colleague and I tried to find betting odds on the Lib Dems winning more seats than Labour in June, but we could find no such market. I wonder if one will open in the coming weeks, and whether or not it would be worth a punt.

For the record, I think the Liberal Democrats will do extremely well. By leading a policy of Brexit reversal, they garner the attention (and many of the votes) of many millions upset with the direction the country is headed in.

This snap General Election is the last obstacle in between Brexit voters and what they desire most. It is therefore imperative for them to support the party most willing to secure the very things the country wanted to reclaim control of last June.

Since the Tory Party (and the Tory Party alone) fills this bracket, I shall be voting for the Conservatives on June 8th. I am politically unaligned and have been for much of the year, but this election is the last port of call for those desperate to rally behind Brexit.

As far as the Labour Party is concerned, I think we should first give Jeremy Corbyn credit for sticking by his word and accepting the challenge of a snap election. Of course, he won’t win, but who in his position would lead Labour to victory?

I have for some time thought that Yvette Cooper, known for her tremendous parliamentary performances, might have been a far better candidate to lead Her Majesty’s opposition. Corbyn is a good politician, but a hopeless leader.

Labour members ought to be worried. Most polling and local election results suggest that they will take significant hits come June, but their worry should not necessarily be triggered by the Tories.

For the first time since the early 1980s under Michael Foot, the Labour Party is in very real danger of losing its status not only as opposition, but as the party of working people.

The Lib Dems, who appear much more organised and viable an opposing party, have a chance to leapfrog Labour at this election. And their members know it. Through talking to Lib Dems, as I have been, I have found the sense of optimism striking.

My one fear is that they win enough seats to make up for Labour losses in rural England that they are able to thwart a Tory majority. I don’t think this will happen, as a weakened SNP in Scotland may allow Ruth Davidson to take more marginal seats, but it is indeed a possibility.

I would also draw the attention of readers to two other interesting political developments that may have a significant impact on this summer’s election.

First, 2018’s boundary changes (which I had forgotten about entirely until I was reminded of them on Facebook last night) are a potential problem for the Conservatives. ‘Holding off until 2020 would allow the Tories to take advantage of boundary changes that come into force in 2018’, writes Will Heaven yesterday in The Spectator.

Secondly, the prominence of Sinn Fein ought not to be ignored. The Tories have always benefitted from a useful Democratic Unionist Party contingent in parliament, and they will regret the number of DUP MPs falling.

These are my most pertinent thoughts on this election. My vote, as a matter of supporting Britain’s exit from the EU, will go to the Tories, and I should expect them to win a majority. But I will keep a beady eye on the Liberal Democrats.

 


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.


My interview with anorexic student Damian Talaga, designer of a virtual bodybuilding game

The following is an interview I conducted with a friend and Polish student Damian Talaga, an anorexic student designing a potentially revolutionary new virtual bodybuilding game. We discuss his battle with anorexia and how his game could inspire those who have anxieties about their bodies.

I also apologise for bad language used in the interview.