Labour has no outstanding candidate

Labour’s leadership contest, considered bland and uninteresting for so long has been brought to life by the success of Jeremy Corbyn. Corbyn’s popularity has grown amongst the grassroots of the Labour Party and recent polls have even put him ahead in the contest.

Many theories have been given for Corbyn’s success, but the strongest appears to be that none of the other candidates have put forward a compelling case. Liz Kendall had a strong start to the campaign, but has since fallen away and is no longer a serious contender, leaving the Blairite wing of the party isolated. Yvette Cooper has come across as competent, but unexciting and there are still doubts over where she stands on certain issues. Andy Burnham remains the frontrunner in the contest but has been weakened by his flip-flopping on the welfare bill and has failed to build on his position.

Looking at these candidates and their performances so far, many ordinary Labour Party members may feel sceptical about whether any of them could win an election. Although a significant proportion of the Labour Party had their doubts about Tony Blair and where he stood on the political spectrum, he was considered a winner and a Prime Minister in waiting and this helped to ease their fears. In this contest there is no candidate who fits this description and therefore the desire to back a candidate more politically aligned to the traditional values of the Labour Party may be tempting.

Jeremy Corbyn has stood out in this race because of clear positioning and ability to give straight answers to straight questions. The political values he espouses may not be considered electorally viable but are certainly clear cut. His romantic and nostalgic version of what the Labour Party should be is very appealing to many on the Left of the party. Corbyn is winning people’s hearts and when there is no candidate who can win people’s heads, this is a distinct advantage.

A strong candidate in the Labour leadership race would have blunted the appeal of Corbyn. A candidate who could unite the party and could win an election would have brought all sections of the party together. It is to the detriment of the Labour Party that no such candidate exists or has chosen to enter the race and that there is a very real prospect Corbyn could win.

Israel has every right to be angry with Iran’s deal!

Iran recently reached a deal with Western powers on the country’s nuclear programme. This caused wild celebrations on the streets of Tehran and among ordinary Iranian citizens and came after long negotiations. However the agreement has not been universally popular and has its fair share of critics as well.

The deal stated billions of dollars of sanctions would be lifted and in exchange for these sanctions being lifted, 98% of Iran’s stock-pile of weapons grade uranium would be destroyed, making the path to a nuclear weapon more difficult. These reforms would give Iran greater control over their economy and would allow the country to trade with the rest of the world.

The loudest critics of this deal have been the Republican Party in America who claimed this deal legitimized the Iranian government and that Iran could not be trusted and the Israeli government who are fearful of a stronger Iran. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very strong saying this was a mistake of historic proportions and that Iran is going to receive a sure path to nuclear weapons.

Iran does have a questionable track record and therefore questions do have to be asked about trust. Despite being brought to the negotiating table, they have shown no desire to change their position on Israel and still refuse Israel’s right to exist. This should have been made a focal point of any negotiations. Until this changes they will always remain a threat to Israel and the more powerful they become which this deal will ensure the stronger the threat they will be.

Iran has always had a difficult relationship with the West. Therefore it is admirable that Iran has been brought to the negotiating table. However that does not justify a potentially bad deal or mean that any deal is better than no deal. Parts of this deal remain unsavoury and therefore Israel has every right to be angry with the agreement.

 

 

 

The return of the railways to public ownership?

Jeremy Corbyn has become the frontrunner in Labour’s leadership elections due to many young grass-root activists seeing him as an inspirational and radical alternative in comparison to the more staid options of Andy Burnham, Yvette Cooper and Liz Kendall. However his views on economics, branded “Corbynomics” is anything but radical or new with the ideas of quantitative easing and the re-nationalisation of key industries forming a part of any Labour pamphlet from 1945 to 1994. That he wants to return Britain back to the 1970s is not an unfair accusation.

Whilst Corbyn has been rightly attacked for his views on quantitative easing since the brunt of it falls on the poorest in society with regards to interest and inflation, his views on re-nationalising key industries, particularly the railways, does garner support from across the Labour spectrum with Andy Burnham now including it as a part of his election manifesto.

The reasons for its new-found popularity are that in the last decade, fares and private profit have rapidly increased whilst punctuality and efficiency have plumbed new depths. According to a report conducted by Manchester University, train companies are turning over an estimated 90% of their profits to their shareholders whilst also receiving subsidies worth £1.2 billion. And yet, 748,000 trains were late in the last year with some companies such as Southern Railways running services such as the 7.29 from Brighton to Victoria that managed to be late every single day of the year!

As a comparison, the East Coast service, the last of the state-owned services, was found to be the most efficient of all the rail franchises according to the Office of Rail Regulation, the industry watchdog. It had record passenger service and delivered £1 billion to the Treasury. This was after it had to be rescued from private hands in 2009 but in March 2015, they were returned to private hands.

This helps explain why nationalisation of the railways is a popular and game-changing idea since the Conservatives remain wedded to a profit-generating ideology rather than attempting to generate free markets and genuine competition.

The arguments against nationalisation stem from a belief in unbridled capitalism but these are invalidated since true capitalism requires genuine competition and free markets. With regards to the railways, only a monopoly can ever exist since there is a limited number of rail tracks, which prevents competition between firms as we might expect in other industries. This allows prices to be hiked up with no increase in quality and yet no recriminations for the firms.

A monopoly in private hands is only ever good for the shareholders and bad for the consumers which are why Jeremy Corbyn and his supporters are determined to see it return to public ownership.

WILL THE TIME FOR INVESTMENT ARRIVE?

During the last month, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has delivered to the public opinion a sequence of demanding measures in order to build a United Kingdom that, from the economic point of view, «lives within its means». His strategy to reach this high-level score made its first move with the Summer Budget, thanks to which the Treasury expects to earn roughly £18 billion mainly through welfare reforms and measures to tackle tax avoidance, evasion, compliance, and imbalances in the tax system. This amount of savings, spread along 5 years, will be able to originate an available surplus for future needs. But Mr Osborne has gone further, recently ordering and additional cutting plan that will force government departments to cut up to 40% from their budget by 2019-2020 in the tough attempt to find an extra £20 billion savings in public spending.

Needless to say that any measure that aims to reduce the deficit, slash the related interests and keep books balanced is more than welcomed. However, what could seem questionable is how far austerity can be pushed without causing economic and social instability, as it is already happening.

The Summer Budget itself includes some valuable ideas indeed, as the increase of the minimum wage starting from April 2016 that, nevertheless, might be difficult to reach just relying on cuts. What is highly expected from a Tories Government, who had based its entire electoral campaign on economical trustworthiness, is a strong investment plan that runs simultaneously with an improved public spending.

Going back to April, in fact, with the release of the Conservative Manifesto that made David Cameron elected PM, numbers about investment plan were clear. The manifesto stated that a Tories Government would have set out a plan to invest over £100 billion over the next Parliament. A considerable amount of fund to employ in infrastructure, railway network, roads, environment and communication infrastructure. An economic impulse that with no doubt would be a lever to guarantee both a full economic recovery for all those business sectors that are still suffering from the economic crisis and the pledge to make United Kingdom the best thriving economy in the EU zone.

It is hardly time to end austerity policies (as EU zone teaches) and start investing money then. Will Osborne’s laissez-faire imprinting finally prevail?

Scrapping the Human Rights Act: A gift to the depots of the region

The Government’s plan to replace the Human Rights Act with an autonomous British Bill of Rights is a misguided attempt to pander to the irrational fears of Europhobes. It is a move that could irreparably damage Britain’s reputation as a promoter of international human rights norms while simultaneously undermining the vital and delicate mission of the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR).

In an anarchic international system where state sovereignty remains jealously guarded, global and regional courts, lacking universal adherence and stunted by seemingly endless tides of bureaucracy, have often been rightly dismissed as toothless. The ECtHR, however, has managed to transcend many of these constraints achieving an unrivalled level of success in establishing itself as a legitimate regional authority. While the court faces valid criticism for its backlog of cases, the importance of the right to individual petition cannot be overstated. The court is seen as a last beacon of hope for some of Europe’s most downtrodden and oppressed individuals, and if their cases make it to Strasbourg, it becomes increasingly untenable for national courts and authorities to sweep their complaints under the carpet.

Of course, the ECtHR is still somewhat afflicted by the tenuous authority of international law. Given the fact that it is a supranational court that does not possess hard powers of enforcement, the perceived universal legitimacy of the court is imperative in lending authority to its decisions and placing pressure on its members to obey its dictates. A strong commitment from domestic legislative bodies and civil society is needed in order to ensure compliance; conditions which do not exist in every member state. The Court has faced significant impediments in states with less entrenched liberal democratic norms such as Russia and Turkey, where implementation has been patchy.  However, it is when the court’s founding members begin to loudly question its authority that the entire project could begin to unravel.

Recent domestic backlash against the Human Rights Act has been largely overblown, uninformed, and fuelled by sensationalist media spin. Right wing news outlets and politicians are quick to portray the Act, which decrees the incorporation of ECtHR rulings into UK law, as the guardian of the rights of deviant, foreign criminals at the expense of law-abiding society. In reality, the dictates of the court are predominantly uncontroversial and universally beneficial. Britain actually has a very strong track record in the court; last year the court dealt with 955 applications from the UK, of which only eight were ruled a violation of the Convention. Where the ECtHR has ruled against Britain over the years, it has been to decriminalise homosexuality in Northern Ireland, establish greater child protection mechanisms through curbs on corporal punishment, and establish the grounds for gays to serve openly in the military. Few in the UK would now hold quarrel with these liberal and progressive rulings. Furthermore, there is a wide leeway granted to member states through the ‘margin of appreciation’ which defers to state sovereignty on a number of issues deemed to be of vital national interest to the state in question. In light of these facts, arguments that decry excessive European interventionism through the ECtHR are unconvincing.

While the vast majority of UK citizens will be largely unaffected by the adoption of a British Bill of Rights in lieu of the HRA, it is a small, vulnerable minority that stand to suffer. The mission of the ECtHR has never been to usurp the role of national lawmakers but to act as a safety net for cases that slip through the cracks, ensuring that everybody in society has one last place to turn for help in exceptional circumstances where they feel that they have been dealt with unjustly by national courts. To trade off this invaluable symbol of justice as a political bargaining chip is both short-sighted and callous.

Crucially, this proposed abrogation of international rights and duties sends a dangerous message to potential violators in Europe and the wider international community. Putin and his ilk will no doubt rejoice, interpreting this move from the UK as a welcome signal that the era of robust, regional human rights protection is beginning to crumble.

Should the Labour Party be open to welfare reform?

Is the Labour party gradually falling apart without an actual leader? This week saw one of the largest Labour rebellions of some time, with 47 MPs voting against the government’s welfare bill. The bill which includes a number of cuts, including lowering the welfare cap to £20,000 outside London and £23,000 in London has come under great scrutiny in the past few weeks; however the government have been able to cross their first hurdle by pushing the bill through parliament.

But what does this mean for the Labour party? Labour MP’s were asked to abstain from the second reading, yet Harriet Harman’s strategy on removing Labours title as the ‘party of welfare’ came crashing down. Whilst she had support from the frontrunner of the leadership contest Andy Burnham, many have been questioning Labours confusing message regarding the bill.

During the leadership contest Burnham expressed his anger towards Harman for not opposing the welfare bill, but voted with her in Parliament. Straight after the vote Burnham took to social media to claim that he will now oppose the bill. If he is to be the next leader of the Labour party, surly he needs to stand up to his own party and not play games?

Labour has been against many of the governments welfare cuts in the last parliament but has the election result made them re-think their policies. A Conservative government with 331 seats has left a huge scar on the Labour party, and sooner or later they will need to change their aims in order to appeal to the voters.

A strong leader is key in order to avoid large rebellions like this in the future, but the party needs to work together in order to bring back voters. Many voters have lost faith in the party, who believe Labour has distance itself from its key aim, being a party for the working class. The party’s direction is still not clear, and with Harman often being seen as a Tory in disguise, questions lie on what direction the party will take in the future.

Tsipras has no democratic legitimacy for this deal!

A few weeks ago Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras reached an agreement with other Eurozone leaders over a third Greek bailout. This came after weeks of drama and protracted negotiations and has involved Greece making several concessions. However in accepting these terms many believe Tsipras has sold his country short and failed to act on what his voters demanded.

Tsipras was elected Prime Minister when the Syriza party won the Greek elections in 2014. The Syriza party were elected on a left wing manifesto which promised to be anti-austerity and stand up for the people of Greece in Europe. This anti-austerity position was given further weight when the Greek people decisively voted No in a recent referendum.

When a government is elected, regardless of the country they are elected in and the situation they face or inherit they are elected on a certain manifesto. This is the contract they make with their electors. On occasions a political party may have to change direction slightly from the manifesto, but a complete about turn does led to questions about legitimacy, especially when a political party knows the situation they will inherit.

This is not a debate about economics, it is a debate about democracy. There is a strong argument to say that because of this deal Greece and the Greek people will be in a far better position, however this is not what their voters voted for. A political party cannot be elected on a manifesto and then turn its back on the main tenants of that manifesto. It must have the confidence of its beliefs even in the most difficult of times.

The situation in Greece is complex and there is no easy solution. Regardless of whether an agreement had been reached or there had been no agreement, it is likely there would have been howls of anguish and claims of treachery. On this occasion though these claims are perfectly fair and Tsipras now faces a challenge to keep his party and country united in the midst of many harsh austerity reforms.

Are America Ready To Elect a Third Bush?

Jeb Bush has recently announced that he will run for President. In doing so he has raised the possibility of America electing their third Bush, with Jeb following in the path of his father and his brother.

In an ideal world, each politician would be judged on their policies and record rather than the more superficial elements. However in reality, this is not always the case. The surname Bush has become synonymous with some of America’s most controversial contributions to the world in recent times, notably the War on Terror and invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq. Therefore it would be naïve to believe this is not going to be a hindrance for Jeb, even though he is a different man to his father and brother.

The road to the White House will not be easy for Jeb. He first has to win the nomination from the Republican Party. Currently this race is very open and many candidates have put themselves forward, including a number of younger candidates who will be arguing the need for change and will be seeking to gain an advantage in any way they. This may include cynical and tactical attacks on Jeb. The Republican Party is also divided into numerous factions highlighted by the rise of the Tea Party, making it hard for any candidate to gain universal support across the party.

If Jeb successfully won the Republican nomination, he would then have to beat the Democratic candidate. In all likelihood this is going to be Hillary Clinton. Hillary has many strengths and will run a strong campaign, but her presence may actually enhance Jeb’s chances. The surname Clinton in American politics also carries some baggage and Hillary too will face many of the same questions Jeb will have to face. This could nullify the effectiveness of any Democratic attack in this regard.

The race for the Presidency is only at its very earliest stages and there are still some candidates who may yet declare. There is a lot still too happen and it is too early for any predictions to be made. Jeb has many barriers to overcome in the race, of which his name is one. Whether or not this will be critical to his chances is open to discussion!

Budget 2015: the Youth Bear the Brunt

In some ways, it isn’t surprising that young people often feel hard done by when it comes to government spending. We are statistically less likely to vote, and so when it comes to election time, our views matter less to those seeking election. We wield less power: we are employees, not employers; we consume, mainly through education, and do not contribute. This short term view (which, in fairness, is strongly encouraged by our style of democracy) informs the Chancellor’s new Budget; one which seeks desperately to paint the Conservatives as the ‘working people’s’ party, whilst at the same time pulling the rug out from under them. This is George Osborne trying to play the wolf in sheep’s clothing, but not, as the right wing press might have you believe, altogether successfully.

 

The attack is multi-faceted: students get their grants turned into loans; the new, underwhelming living wage won’t apply to under-25s; housing benefit will be removed for 18- to 21-year olds; and the threshold for repayment of tuition fee loans may now be frozen for 5 years.

 

What makes this worse than it may first appear is that it is young people in low-wage employment who are most in need of a living wage, and denying it not only to under-21s, as is the case with the current minimum wage, but to under-25s, is a clear demonstration that the Chancellor is more concerned with token gestures than real solutions. With the combination of denying housing benefit to young people, scaling back tax credits and freezing other working age benefits, it is clear that this is one section of society that George Osborne is happy to alienate.

 

As a young voter in 2015, I strongly sympathise with those who don’t believe that their voice will be heard. A large part of the Conservative vote comes from older people, specifically pensioners, to whom they clearly feel they owe an electoral debt. If I were someone already disillusioned with the British political system, acts such as Wednesday’s Budget would only strengthen this feeling. It is clear that when it comes to Conservative policy, it is voters, not people who count. This is not how democracy should work; but if this is the system which we are forced to operate in, it is vital that young people turn that disaffection not into political apathy, but into political anger, and make their voice heard at the ballot box.

Should we refer to the so called ‘Islamic State’ by another name?

In the last week we have seen the horrific actions of the group who call themselves the ‘Islamic State’. The horrific scenes in Tunisia have underlined the barbaric nature of this group and the threat they pose to Western ideals and beliefs.

There is much debate about how we in Britain and the West in general should respond to these attacks. One debate which has been raging is about how we should refer to the group, with David Cameron in particular expressing disappointment that the BBC are still referring to them as the ’Islamic State’, believing this legitimizes the group as ‘Islamic’.

The actions of this group cannot be ignored and do need to be reported on and therefore there has to be a suitable way to label them. However there is also a responsibility not to aid the group or increase their appeal by giving them unwanted or unneeded appeal.

With many young Muslims from across the world being attracted to this group, it would be foolish to believe there is not an ongoing propaganda battle happening here. By directly referring to the group as ‘Islamic’ we are adding to the romance of the movement and increasing their appeal and handing them another success.

This group does not represent Islam or Islamic values. The majority of Muslims are appalled by their actions and have been quick to condemn them. By referring to them in this current manner we strengthen the perception that the group is ‘Islamic’ when in reality this is simply being used as a cover to hide their grotesque actions.

There have been signs in the last few days that some of the broadcasters may be willing to change their position on this topic. This would be very welcome and would only be beneficial. Our task is to fight this group in any way we can and that includes limiting their appeal and legitimacy. By not referring to them as ‘Islamic’ we would do this and in this battle every small victory matters.