Can 2016 live up to 2015?

Looking back at the past year it is hard to know where to begin. 2015 has been a very unpredictable and dramatic year. The political tremors experienced were different to anything we have seen for some time. Before looking forward to 2016, it would be wrong not to have a brief look back at the past year and these are just a few of the highlights.

The year started with talk of hung parliaments and potential coalitions as we all prepared for the General Election in May. Who would form a government and who would be our Prime Minister? The polls indicated it was too close to call, but the end result was a decisive victory for the Tories and a small majority with Cameron continuing in Number 10. The SNP made remarkable gains in Scotland, the Lib Dems were wiped out and UKIP won only 1 seat.

Labour then elected veteran left-wing backbencher Jeremy Corbyn as their new leader, a 200-1 outsider at the start of the race. This may have changed politics in the Labour Party forever and has caused an internal debate which shows no sign of ending anytime soon. These disagreements were best highlighted in the Syria vote and Hilary Benn’s speech and the subsequent fall-out afterwards.

So what happens next and what will happen in 2016. Will Britain vote to leave the EU? Can the Labour Party stay united and will Corbyn remain as leader? Is London going to stay blue and will Goldsmith beat Khan? Is there anything that can stop the SNP in Scotland? These are just some of the storylines to keep an eye on in 2016. Currently you cannot take your eye off politics and that means 2016 should be pretty good as well. Hang onto your hats because the ride is just beginning!

UKIP’s populism in action

The UKIP has been building the majority of its campaign on issues related to immigration and anti- European Union Policies. It is vital for every political party to have a strategy, but what the UKIP leader Nigel Farage did during the TV debate with the other leaders was disgusting. Mr Farage has stated that 60 % of the people diagnosed with AIDS each year are from overseas. All of the participants in the leader’s debate, except the Prime Minister have condemned Farage’s statement. In UKIP’s manifesto is stated that if its measures for insurance of each person coming to the UK are implemented ₤ 2 billion per year will be saved to the UK taxpayers.  However, the reasons of the majority of the immigrants in the UK are economic, instead of intentionally coming to benefit from the so called ‘health-tourism’. The case with the healthcare is different- the immigrants are also paying taxes hence they contribute to the UK economy. Why they will need to be double-taxed- to pay taxes and at the same time to pay for health insurance- something that they already have paid for?

Another ridiculous statement of UKIP is that the immigrants are taking the jobs of the British people. If you consider the facts carefully, there is still a demand for non-qualified jobs- like agriculture, cleaning etc. Looking at the percentage of the British people working in these sectors, simply there is no interest from the local people to work in these sectors. If there is a demand for the business, that means that the gap needs to be filled somehow and the absence of interest from the local population leads to these trends.

The people have easily forgot the hysteria that was created by Nigel Farage the end of 2013, when the restrictions for the Bulgarian and Rumanian citizens were lifted. Mr Farage was making loud statements that as soon as the restrictions are lifted, the entire population of these countries will come to the UK to live on benefits and take the jobs of the British citizens. The actual reality was different, most of the people who had desire to come to the UK were already here, even before the accession of the two countries in the EU in 2007 there was a possibility for the people to obtain a working visa.

The main problems for the UKIP are the immigrants and the European Union. UKIP simply does not provide any political solution to the problems. Unlike the other political parties, UKIP does not provide a comprehensive political programme, it just relies on the populist statements. The most ridiculous facts are that Mr Farage himself has French origin and his second wife is German.

It needs to be emphasized that the politics of hatred should be avoided. The politicians must take responsibility for their actions and give example to the society. The British society has proved its tolerance and multicultural identity and have to be proud of that. The people also must take responsibility by reading carefully and thinking carefully what the programmes of the political parties offer and whether their goals might be implemented.

Any Progress in Saudi Arabia Has To Be Applauded

Recently Saudi Arabia as a country has made news for the wrong reasons largely due to their poor human rights record and links to extremism. These headlines have not perturbed the British government though who maintain a good relationship with the country.

The British government have always claimed the best way to challenge Saudi Arabia on their human rights record was to engage in a relationship with them. This weekend we might have seen the first signs that this pressure and that from other Western countries is having an impact. In elections which took place over the weekend, women for the first time were allowed to vote and participate with up to 20 women being elected to municipal councils.

Progress as history shows can often be slow. Great reform doesn’t always happen instantly. Saudi Arabia as a country has a long traditional, conservative background. This type of thinking is deep rooted in the country and will take time to change. These are deep obstacles and hurdles which need to be overcome, but can be overcome as the weekend begins to show before reform can truly flourish.

Despite what happened in these elections life is not great for women in Saudi Arabia. They were not allowed to address men directly and the councils they have been elected to only have limited powers. They are not allowed to drive and are treated as second class citizens. The progress made in these elections is notable but is only the first part of a long journey.

Rightly criticism of Saudi Arabia has been fairly harsh in recent times. As a country their values are questionable and should represent an era long-gone. However these elections were good news. They were a signal that the country is moving in the right direction. This deserves praise. Saudi Arabia still has a way to go but any progress is positive and should not be underplayed. Therefore we should applaud greatly what has just happened and the signal it sends.

The perils of freedom of speech!

New boxing heavyweight champion of the world Tyson Fury has sparked controversy with his recent comments on homosexuality and its possible links to paedophilia. The statements he has made have been highly offensive and have drawn criticism from many including prominent Labour MP Chris Bryant. There is even a growing petition to have Fury removed from the Sports Personality of the Year (SPOTY) contest. However are offensive comments simply part of the society we live in and a price worth paying for freedom of speech?

Those in the public spotlight have a responsibility over how they conduct themselves. Rightly or wrongly they are role models and what they say and do will have an impact on their fans. Fury is a very talented boxer, but has also always been a complex character who has never been shy of speaking his mind (part of his appeal!). Now with his new-found status and appeal Fury must urgently consider how he behaves and how he conducts himself and whether he needs to change.

There is a difference between defending what Fury has said and defending his right to say it. We rightly place a very high regard on freedom of speech in this country and the right of an individual to express himself or herself. This opens the possibility for opinions such as Fury’s, but remains better than the alternative when all views contrary to the norm are suppressed and restricted.

The best way to defeat these views is through challenging them in open debate. The arguments Fury made do not stand up to scrutiny and when any spotlight is focused on them they will fall apart. Society is developing and progressing and these arguments are becoming less and less common, highlighted in the contempt Fury has been held in since his recent interviews.

As a society we must always defend the right of people to speak their mind (excluding extreme examples which incite violence). Having a right to make these comments does not mean though that it is right to make them and Fury is obviously in the wrong here. The petition for him to be removed from SPOTY is quite sizeable but this would be the wrong move. Rather the right move will be to let the public show through their voting intentions what they really think of Fury. That has to be the response of a free society.

Should Jeremy Corbyn Have Whipped His MPs?

Jeremy Corbyn has opted to give his Labour MPs a free vote on the issue of intervention in Syria. This comes despite Corbyn’s strong opposition to the government’s plans and pressures to impose a three line whip on his MPs forcing them to vote with him. This decision has brought a mixed response with some seeing it as the only decision that he could make and others seeing it as an abdication of leadership.

Issues of war and peace are normally seen as matters of conscience. It is the most serious decision Parliament as a whole and an individual MP can make and is never taken lightly. In recent times on all such decisions there have been divisions across the House and in both the Conservative and Labour parties. This would indicate MPs will vote with their consciences regardless of what their party whips recommend and there would be no point in forcing an MP to vote a certain way.

If Jeremy Corbyn had opted to whip his MPs and force them to vote with him, there would have been consequences. A number of prominent Labour MPs have already publicly stated they disagree with him and were likely to vote with the government. This could have led to widespread resignations or sackings and would only have increased divisions. With the Labour Party already divided, it could have been seen as foolish to inflict further damage on party unity.

The Labour Party are the official opposition in this country. This carries with it a number of responsibilities and voters expect them to have an agreed position on the most pressing issues. This is now not the case when it comes to Syria and Labour at best seem confused and at worst incompetent. This situation may have been avoided if a three-line whip had been imposed and an official position agreed.

Also on issues such as these Jeremy Corbyn has been given a clear mandate from the Labour Party membership and his current position seems to reflect the overwhelming mood within the membership. It appears an official position of opposing the airstrikes would accurately represent where a lot of Labour voters are.

Regardless of the decision Corbyn made he was likely to have gained some criticism such is the public mood. Corbyn’s leadership though does appear confused presently and throughout the weekend his camp have sent out mixed messages on this. The Labour Party as the official opposition need to be clearer on their position on such important issues. The real problem here has not been the decision reached, but the confusion that has been caused in recent days and the lack of a clear strategy and sensible thinking.

A political solution in Syria requires military action!

The horrific terrorist attacks in Paris have increased calls in some quarters for Britain to take a more active military role in the conflict against Daesh. Currently British forces are only active in Iraq and not in Syria. However with Prime Minister David Cameron reportedly preparing another vote for the House of Commons on this matter this could soon change. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn though remains unconvinced and believes a political solution in Syria would be better than any military solution.

The situation in Syria remains complex and it is clear there is no perfect solution. Undeniably though if Syria is to recover, Daesh need to be wiped out. They have a fascist identity and ideology and while they remain active and powerful there will never be a chance of peace. This is not a group that is prepared to negotiate and left to their own devices will continue to wreak havoc in that region and across the world.

Military action is never perfect and we can never be sure about where it will end, but at times it is necessary as a last resort to defeat a great evil. This is the situation we are in with Daesh. If Daesh is to be defeated, then the heart of their organisation must be struck in Syria. In order to be successful this will require both bombing from the air and troops on the ground. The bombing campaign itself will not be able to totally destroy Daesh but will weaken Daesh’s power base and hit their organisational base. Troops on the ground will also be needed to regain land on the ground. These troops should come from local regions rather than Western nations as this would only increase Daesh’s appeal and aid their arguments.

On the need to defeat Daesh, Russia and the West seem to be on the same page. This unity needs to be used and efforts need to be made to bring Russia on side, regardless of previous differences. We will be much stronger if we share information and resources and work together. This does not mean giving Russia a free hand to bomb whomever they please in Syria but rather support if they too go after Daesh.

Whilst Daesh exist in Syria there will be no political solution. They need to be removed and sooner rather than later. This will require military intervention and action. For Syria’s long term prospects Assad must also be removed and this cannot be ignored either. This though will be a harder process and will involve negotiations with Russia, where possibly a closer relationship can be built. Our first action must be to remove Daesh and after that hopefully a deal can be struck on Assad. The battle against Daesh is the battle of our generation and we have to be prepared to do what it takes to defeat them and this does involve military action. Corbyn and all his advocates surely have to accept this.

 

Could Britain Really Vote to leave EU?

A recent poll conducted by the ORB has shown that 52% of people in Britain want to leave the EU. There has been a notable swing towards the ‘Leave’ campaign in recent weeks and according to this research the ‘Leave’ camp now have the lead. This raises the very real prospect and possibility that Britain could vote to leave the EU.

The current political environment is clearly having a real influence on this debate. The ongoing refugee crisis which has been linked to the Paris attacks has once again caused fears about whether we can protect our borders and ultimately whether we would be better off outside the EU. It would be foolish to underestimate the impact of recent events on the current psyche of the British population.

Added to this, there has been the underwhelming response to the demands put forward by the Prime Minister. His requests for renegotiation appear to be quite modest and there is no game-changer. If the public as a whole is unconvinced by the Prime Minister’s demands then it seems fairly logical that a high proportion of previously undecided voters will swing towards leaving.

Emotions are still very raw presently and security fears across Europe are notably high. If the referendum was to be held in the next month or the next few weeks this alongside the poor deal Cameron is expected to renegotiate could be potentially decisive. However we still do not have a date for the referendum and therefore cannot make a judgement on what the public mood will be at the time when the referendum takes place. There is still a lot that could happen which may change the political climate and ultimately decide the referendum.

Even with these polls showing the ‘Leave’ campaign ahead, the bookmakers still make it odds on that Britain will vote to stay in the EU. Of course bookmakers like polls can often be wrong but when trying to evaluate votes and referendums of this kind, following the money is a sensible way to assess the way the debate is going and the money still suggests Britain will stay in the EU.

Personally my view remains that Britain will vote to stay in the EU. The debate is closer than expected and the polls indicate this will be a very close race. However as a country traditionally we have a history of voting for the ‘status quo’ and when the time comes to make a decision, fears of what Britain’s future will be outside the EU will concentrate minds and decide the election in favour of ‘Remain’.

 

 

 

Can Trump really win the Republican nomination?

Controversial business magnate Donald Trump remains the front-runner in the Republican race. The latest polls have shown him maintaining his lead and presently he is the favourite to win the first primary in New Hampshire on February 9th.

The Republicans as of yet do not have a brilliant candidate. Rubio, Carson and Cruz all have their supporters but don’t tick all the boxes. This ensures the race will be very open and gives the opportunity for an outsider like Trump to come through. Trump is very different to all of his rivals. He has not had a background in politics and therefore is not affected in this regard and does not carry the same baggage. The current mood is drifting away from mainstream politicians (also see the rise of Sanders!) and this will only aid Trump.

Trump’s numbers are steady. Despite a number of attacks on him and some fairly outspoken and what many would consider offensive statements, he has stayed comfortably ahead of his rivals. This shows he is far from a flash in the pan and has a very solid support base in the Republican Party.

Security fears have also reached new levels. This in itself will help the Republican Party but could also specifically help Trump. Trump has not been afraid to adopt a more hard-line stance than his rivals on security measures and in the current environment this could be very popular.

Trump does have obstacles to overcome though. This is a long campaign and as of yet he has 0 delegates and therefore his lead in the polls counts for nothing. History has previously shown us the front-runner often falls away and this definitely could happen with Trump. Also as the contest goes longer and longer voters’ minds may be more concentrated and this could lead to a more moderate candidate being selected.

It is highly unlikely Trump will win the nomination. Trump’s numbers are holding up better than expected though and for that reason he can no longer be seen as a joke figure. Eventually I believe the Republicans will unite around a different candidate, probably Rubio but until that happens Trump will continue to generate headlines and we will have to consider all eventualities including a Trump victory.

 

Russian military flights- acts of provocation and absence of responsibility

Since the beginning of the year we have been witnessing increasing number of Russian military flights across Europe. These activities might be explained with the ongoing conflict in Ukraine and the tension between Russia and the West.

The UK’s Ministry of Defence reported that on Wednesday (28/01/2015) two Russian long-range bombers were detected and intercepted by Royal Air Force typhoons flying over the English Channel. The typhoons escorted the Russian military planes until they left the UK Flight Information Region. According to NATO, the alliance forces have intercepted more than 100 flights of Russian military aircrafts in 2014, three times more than in 2013.

The Russian military forces claim that all of the similar operations are legal and in compliance with international law as the Russian military planes do not cross into the foreign airspaces, which in fact is true. They also argue that their actions are in response to the NATO’s expansion eastwards and the military exercises launched by the Alliance.

However, the biggest issue is that the transponders of the Russian planes are switched off. That causes a significant danger for the civilian aircrafts. There were two cases, where civilian planes have been diverted in order to prevent collusion with Russian fighter jets. The military planes must indicate their presence to the nearby civilian aircrafts, because they are not visible for the civil aviation controllers. Furthermore there was another case of Russian military plane that nearly collided with Norwegian military jet. In the case that occurred over the English Channel, the transponders of the Russian bombers also have been switched off.

Maintaining the balance of power is of crucial importance in the international relations. Russia is definitely recovered from transition period during the 90’s, but is still far from its performance during the Cold War years. President Putin aims to demonstrate that the Western states should comply with Russia. While Russia’s actions might be justifiable in the region of its immediate neighbourhood, such as the Baltic and Black Sea, the two Russian bombers flying close to the UK border and the military flights over the North Sea are clear acts of provocation. In fact NATO’s military exercises were launched close to the Russian border, but were carried out around the border areas of the member states countries and were announced in advance.

Despite the fact that the relations between Russia and the West are experiencing difficulties at the moment, it needs to be emphasized that to put at risk innocent civilian lives due to unexpected military flights far away from the Russian territory in the XXI century is absolutely unacceptable. We all know the faith of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and we should not let such a tragedy to be repeated.

It’s Easy to Forget but We Did Support the Iraq War!

This week it emerged that the long awaited Chilcot Review into the Iraq War would finally be published in June or July 2016. The review has taken considerably longer than initially expected and has caused great frustration across the political sphere. The Iraq War remains one of the most hotly contested foreign policy decisions of recent times and its spectre still hangs over Parliament, explaining the frustration with the delay in publishing and the desire for some closure.

When we remember the Iraq War and the build-up to it, we tend to remember the marches on the street in Britain and the widely perceived opposition that existed. In February 2003, a month before the invasion it was believed that nearly 2 million people marched on the streets pleading with the government not to invade Iraq. This would indicate a wide-scale opposition to the War existed and that Blair was firmly in a minority when he decided to take Britain into the War. However this is not what the polls from the time suggest.

Britain first invaded Iraq in March 2003. From this period up until the end of 2003 support for the War continued to rise. During this period YouGov conducted 21 polls and on average found that 54% supported the War. ICM and Populus polls also reported similar findings and for the initial period of the invasion support was on the rise and not on the decline. So although we cannot doubt the strong opposition there was to the War, there was also a clear time period when the majority of the population in this country supported the War.

Support for the War has fallen dramatically ever since. The failure to find weapons of mass destruction and the belief that the country was led into a War based on false intelligence has angered much of the general public. Questions of legality also still hang in the air. Tony Blair has been heavily criticised for his part in this and a high proportion of the general public will never forgive him for his actions and his legacy will forever be tarnished.

As we look back at the Iraq War now and the anger which exists towards Blair and those who made the decisions it would be easy to think it was always like this. This simply wouldn’t be true. For whatever reasons for most of 2003 the public supported the War. It may be easy to airbrush this part out, but in reality it provides an important context to what will remain one of Britain’s most controversial foreign policy decisions in recent times.