Labour Leadership Contest and Electoral Reform

There have been accusations of “entryism” into the Labour leadership election in recent weeks, as many supposedly infiltrate the party to vote for the left-wing contender Jeremy Corbyn. The infiltration that has been discussed does exist, but currently it appears to have been exaggerated. Andy Burnham’s team recently claimed in a letter to the party’s general secretary that the “121,000 registered supporters could include several thousand Tory infiltrators”. Currently, approximately 3000 applications have been rejected. Of these 3000, it is believed that around 400 were Tories. Thus, the estimates of the Burnham team are an accentuation to say the least. In contrast, 1900 were members of supporters of the Green Party.

Many of these other left-wing groups, such as the Greens, are not trusted to remain with Labour, and are drawing accusations of not sharing Labour aims and values. However, many such groups do share many of the aims and values of Labour. The party was created by the trade unions and Keir Hardie to represent working class people. The Green party certainly shares many of the socialist values on which Labour was founded: the Greens propose public ownership of rail (public ownership having been enshrined in Labour’s constitution until the 1990s), a stronger welfare state, and an entirely publically owned NHS, which is how Aneurin Bevan conceived of it at its foundation. Other groups, such as Left Unity, have similar aims, and include previous Labour members, such as Ken Loach.

The problem of “left-wing infiltration”- and the mistrust it has bred- has been created by our electoral system. To understand this hypothesis, we need to explore why it is that so many socialist groups are not part of the Labour party, despite the fact it was founded upon socialist ideals. Quite simply, the Labour party has drifted from its core values, and it has done so in the belief that it will allow them to win elections. Tony Benn once remarked that the tragedy of the Labour party was that since about 1974 it had not stood for anything. Such a change was slow, but it eventually culminated in the creation of New Labour, which encompassed many Thatcherite principles. In the 1980s, following the party’s 1983 defeat, Neil Kinnock was elected leader, and began to alter the party’s position. Peter Mandelson, one of the architects of New Labour, was introduced to help with the party’s image, a commitment to unilateral disarmament ceased, and even the term “socialism” was ironed out of the manifesto. The shift in the party was complete in the 1990s, when Tony Blair renounced the party’s commitment to public ownership, by rewriting Clause IV.

A combination of these decisions, and/or some of the decisions made by New Labour in government, such as the involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan, led many of the left (at least those who had not already been expelled) to move to other parties. In other words, Labour lost, or in some cases, forced out, its traditional left wing supporters because it believed that if it moved to the “centre ground” and made itself similar to the Conservatives, it would be rewarded with electoral success.

Our First Past the Post electoral system creates two main parties, currently Labour and the Conservatives, with significant disadvantages for the smaller parties to which many ex-Labour left-wingers had moved. Thus, some left-wingers remained with Labour, having an uncomfortable relationship with a leadership they disagreed with, but feeling as though moving away would result in a lack of representation. Such a relationship does not create loyalty amongst members and supporters, and the party now finds itself struggling to decide which members to eject, with even some long term supporters being rejected.

However, there is another important element to our electoral system which has caused the current chaos. As Will Self suggested recently on Channel 4 news, our main parties are, in fact, two broad coalitions. Labour is a party which accommodates both Jeremy Corbyn and Liz Kendall.  The result is that the party can shift very easily and rapidly from something closer to the “centre ground” or neoliberalism, to something akin to Keynesianism. It is not an environment which encourages loyalty. The party can go through radical changes with the advent of a new leader, meaning that members and supporters who have supported a previous leader may leave when they feel their ideological differences with the leadership are too great.

In order to avoid the confusion and backbiting we are witnessing in the current leadership contest, the party needs to split. If the two elements of Labour’s coalition were to separate, they would each be able to offer something distinctive and consistent, rather than something which would change dramatically with the advent of a new leader, or because of a leader posturing in the centre group in order to hold the two sections of the party together. Unfortunately, a split is not an option in the current climate. In the 1980s, Labour learned the hard way that FPTP punishes party splits harshly, as a number of Labour MPs defected from Michael Foot’s party to form the SDP.

It is no wonder that left wingers are flocking back to Labour when it looks as though Corbyn may take the leadership; if he succeeds, he will be the most left wing leader of Labour since Foot. However, the resurgence of the left in the party has resulted in chaos and hysteria. The disaster of the leadership contest highlights the desperate need for electoral reform in the UK- a system is required which gives smaller parties and splits the space and voice they need.

Electoral reform will not eliminate coalitions, but I am not opposed to groups co-operating; in fact, I welcome it. However, in a democratic society, people should feel that they can join a party which represents them, and continues to do so, instead of having to vote for an unwieldy alliance because they are “slightly better than the other option”. In government, parties may have to work together, but in elections they should be able to offer something distinctive and consistent. Hopefully, instead of fighting against themselves, parties will debate against each other, giving the electorate a clearer and more informed picture.

Cloud Atlas and Neoliberalism


Image: duncan c

In 2004, when David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas was published, the dominant economic and political orthodoxy could be described as neoliberalism, or at least an aim or trend towards a neoliberal society. I will use David Harvey’s definition of neoliberalism: “a theory of political economic practices that proposes that human well-being can best be advanced by liberating individual entrepreneurial freedoms and skills within an institutional framework characterized by strong private property rights, free markets and free trade”. The manner in which these aims are achieved is through cuts in public expenditure and privatisation, with the intention of creating a smaller state, as well as deregulation of the financial sector, and cutting top rate and taxes on business in order to stimulate “wealth creation”. The New Labour governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown (1997-2010) clearly followed such an orthodoxy. They cut corporation tax, made the Bank of England independent (thus reducing the level of government intervention), and increased private involvement in state owned institutions, through the use of PFI contracts in the NHS and schools. One of the seminal texts of neoliberalism is Friedrich Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. Hayek’s argument focuses on the idea that free markets create individual freedom, because they reduce state intervention. In contrast, he asserts that socialism fails because it places economic power in the hands of the state, and this has implications for personal freedom. Cloud Atlas rejects the conclusion that neoliberalism promotes individual freedom. The references to the “corpocracy” are the most explicit suggestions of this. The definition of “corpocracy” is “a corporate bureaucracy , characterised by ineffective management. A society where the interests  of large corporations control economic  and political decisions”. Thus, it is a society in which the power of corporations has expanded, presumably through lack of state intervention and regulation, and they have effectively become the governing body. The fact democracy can be overruled by corporate power suggests that a free market does not inherently guarantee freedom. Cloud Atlas paints a vision of the illusion that unfettered capitalism creates freedom.

The freedom present in Sonmi’s tale is a deception. At its most simplistic level, the story of the fabricants living in an enclosed space suggests the illusion of freedom because it is reminiscent of Plato’s allegory of the cave- where there is an illusion of freedom because the cave is all its inhabitants know of the world. For example, Sonmi-451’s mention that “Hour four-thirty is yellow-up” is referring to sunrise. The very literal acknowledgement of this in the form of “yellow-up” emphasises the artificiality of their environment, and therefore their entrapment, as they are denied access to the real world. The term “yellow-up” is reflective of the artificiality of the light in the cave, emanating from a fire, compared to the light of the sun outside, which represents the source of intellect- the Form of the Good. Indeed, the conclusion of Sonmi-451’s “confession” is that it is a fabrication; she says that “free will plays no part in my story”. Thus, any freedom Sonmi-451 is seen to gain in her narrative is an illusion, in the same manner neoliberalism’s freedom is also an illusion.

The fantasy of freedom is achieved, not just by keeping the fabricants deluded, but also the purebloods. The fact that the fabricants are situated underground acts rather like Karl Marx’s notion of “false consciousness”- the illusion that capitalism is a benevolent system, as Marx speaks of a surface and reality of capitalism. Such a concept is appropriate when we consider an example from contemporary culture. The surface of a mobile phone is attractive, but its appearance does not reveal the narrative of the labour which brought it into being. In contemporary society, such labour may well be in poor conditions, underpaid, and outsourced to nations in the “global south”. Hence, the distance of these workers from the lives of those in the “global north” creates the same kind of ignorance as in Mitchell’s novel towards the fabricants. For example, Sonmi-451 mentions how “to enslave a clone is merely like owning the latest mass-produced six-wheeled ford”. She goes on to explain that fabricants are “as singular as showflakes” but “Pureblood naked eyes cannot discern these differences”. Thus, the fabricants assumed lack of individuality acts as a justification for their use of the fabricants.

Mitchell’s novel portrays capitalism as engaging in the same kind of homogenisation, for which thinkers like Hayek and Alexis de Toqueville denounced socialist societies, and which they saw as undermining individual freedom. The use of the term “consumers” in “An Orison of Sonmi-451” far from focusing on individuals, commits the kind of homogenisation which de Tocqueville claims destroys individual liberty, because it treats them as a bloc, and refers to people via an economic function, not through specific names. There are also suggestions of homogenisation in the form of widespread monopolies in Sonmi’s world. Monopolies undermine, even at an economic level, the supposed luxury and freedom of consumer choice in a free market. For example, all car-like vehicles are now homogenised as “fords”. The replacement of a generic name for a particular product “type” (e.g. cars) by a brand name (Ford) suggests that the choice, and competition, between brands has been sucked out of the market. Indeed, the presentation of these brand names in lowercase is indicative of this: they are no longer proper nouns because they no longer denote a company name- the company name has become the type of product. Thus, “consumers” are forced to buy from one company only. It is the unrestrained nature of the capitalist society presented in the “Sonmi” section which is the cause of this total lack of choice because it is implied that totally free markets encourage monopolies.

This hypothesis is best explained by laying out a major contradiction in free market capitalism. A free market is based upon competition- the market is free, in theory, because it allows a multiplicity of companies to compete against one another, thus giving the consumer choice and supposedly lowering prices. For a market to be free, it is supposed to have no intervention, or as little intervention as possible, by governments; instead government trusts, to use Adam Smith’s phrase, the “invisible hand” of the market. However, the “invisible hand” approach becomes problematic when we consider the fact that companies are supposed to be based upon a profit motive, and that competition is based upon trying to gain dominance over other competing companies. It may be profitable for companies to merge, in order to strengthen themselves against a rival, and therefore, maintain higher profits. Such mergers undermine the concept of a free market, by limiting the freedom of consumer choice. The alternative to avoid this situation is for government to intervene in the market to break up potential mergers to maintain competition. However, as has been established, government intervention defeats the point of a free market; it is called free precisely because government intervention is avoided. Thus, we are surely to take from this that Sonmi-451’s world has a very literal, fundamentalist interpretation of the term “free market”, which has been pursued to the point where mergers have created widespread monopolies. Hence, the individual freedom many theorists believe comes from a free market in the form of consumer choice is totally undermined in the dystopian world of Sonmi-451.

The individualism championed by many neoliberals and libertarians has its roots in self interest. Ayn Rand, for example, advocated laissez-faire capitalism for the precise reason that it liberated self interest. Cloud Atlas presents the self interest upon which unrestrained capitalism is based, as the reason why neoliberalism stifles freedom. For example, Henry Goose follows his own self interest in “The Pacific Journal of Adam Ewing”. Goose poisons Ewing for monetary gains; in doing so, he has to cut off Ewing’s wedding ring. Thus, what Ewing describes as “this symbol of my union” is cut off. The ring which represents a binding contract to another is destroyed, and put into Goose’s “safekeeping”. Goose tells Ewing “he knows a Spanish goldsmith in Honolulu who will repair it for a reasonable price”. The fact that “a reasonable price” is placed upon something which represents a relationship demonstrates that human relationships have been commodified: they are valued only by how they can profit another, just as Goose attempts to profit from Adam. Thus, Goose’s actions are purely individualistic, and yet they impact upon Ewing’s freedom because it is not in his self-interest to protect Ewing’s freedom. Goose’s actions result in Ewing being trapped in his quarters because two sets of self-interest conflict. Similarly, the fabricants in “An Orison of Sonmi-451” are trapped in their workplace, because their unpaid labour brings profit to their employers.

However, this form of self-interested individualism is shown to be incompatible with the survival of humanity. As Adam Ewing states, “for the human race, selfishness is extinction”. Ewing’s statement summarises how self-interest ignores and tramples on the freedom of others because self-interested actions does not take the well being of others into account. This is why Ewing comes to the conclusion that “a purely predatory world shall consume itself”. Precisely because neoliberalism and unfettered capitalism are based upon self-interest, they are self-devouring philosophies, because they take no account of community and the damage that may be done to others when an individual pursues their self-interest. Indeed, the fruition of Ewing’s hypothesis is in the recycling of the fabricants from a workforce to a food supply. Such a cycle is reflected in Ewing’s own section with the line: “That amiable boy, lifeless as a sheep on a butcher’s hook”. Phrases such as “butcher’s hook” and “slaughtered” suggest that he too has been commodified into a food source, as the fabricants are.

Mitchell’s novel offers a critique of the neoliberal system’s claims to provide freedom. The use of brand names for types of products, such as a cup of coffee becoming a cup of “starbuck”, demonstrates how unfettered capitalism fails to provide a free market, instead creating monopolies, which limit freedom by destroying consumer choice. Indeed, the use of the term “corpocracy” calls the compatibility of democratic freedoms and neoliberalism into question, with the suggestion that corporations have overtaken the democratic will. It is  a situation which has occurred in our society, with the Health and Social Care Act 2012 being passed, after Andrew Lansley’s private office was bankrolled £21,000 by Care UK, in spite of an election pledge of “no top-down reorganisation” of the NHS. The enemy being the “Union” in “An Orison of Sonmi-451” is intended to accentuate the little freedom that is available in the current economic system, by contrasting it with a twisted view of the alternative communitarian and socialist systems, which neoliberalism often accuses of homogenisation and stifling freedoms by chaining individuals to others’ needs. However, Henry Goose’s actions suggest that the self interest is in fact destructive of the freedom of others, because it takes no account of them. The callous disregard of self interest is, in Mitchell’s novel, the key to self-destruction. The six interlocking narratives promote communitarian values over self interest. Frobisher’s tale is a parallel to the book’s narrative structure- with the six instrument composition of a sextet representing the six characters different narrative strands. The book, like the musicians in the sextet, can only function if the narratives work together; with one narrative propelling the subsequent one. Frobisher’s disregard for those around him, in the pursuit of his own self interested pleasure and profit, and the self interest of Ayrs, results in Frobisher’s self destruction. Frobisher’s tale offers a metaphor for self interest as the destruction of the human race. Therefore, the novel’s structure promotes communitarian values as securing the future of humanity because it requires co-operation between narrative strands. This value, of individual action building a greater whole, is summarised in the final line of the novel, “Yet what is any ocean but a multitude of drops?” In one line, Mitchell attacks common neoliberal and libertarian arguments that co-operative values, such as progressive taxation to pay for publicly owned services, are an affront to individual freedom because they chain people to others in society. Instead, the final line of Cloud Atlas argues that everyone’s own individual action counts towards a larger picture, imbuing these individual actions with a value and significance, which provides an alternative freedom to the deceptive liberty of unrestrained capitalism.

Summer Budget 2015

Image: Number 10

On Wednesday, the Chancellor, George Osborne, unveiled a new budget which he described as “a budget for working people”. In reality, his measures will only exacerbate rising poverty and inequality. The measures which would be beneficial to working people, according to Osborne, included a “National Living Wage”. I am not opposed to a living wage, but Osborne’s “National Living Wage” is a living wage in name only. It will be £7.20 an hour in April 2016, and will rise to £9 by 2020. Most commentators would not define this as a living wage, which is much higher. In addition, the chancellor has frozen most working age benefits, such as tax credits. Paul Johnson, director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies (IFS), has revealed that those receiving tax credits would be “significantly worse off”, with 13 million families losing an average of £260 a year. Osborne’s budget is one of deception and trickery, pretending to aid low income families with a “living wage”, while in fact diminishing their already limited resources by cutting tax credits.

The changes announced not only put pressure on low income families and individuals; they also fail to achieve the aims laid out by this government. The Resolution Foundation has warned that tax credit changes will fail to incentivise work- something the government has consistently claimed to be achieving. From April 2016, anyone earning more than £3850 a year will have their working tax credits reduced more steeply. Previously, they could earn up to £6420. This is not only a failure in terms of incentivising work; it is an assault on the incomes of some of the poorest in our society. According to the calculations of the Resolution Foundation, by 2020, a low-income, single parent family with one child, working 20 hours a week, at £4.35 an hour could will be £1000 a year worse off. A low-income, dual- earner couple with two children could lose £850. In contrast, a middle-income, dual-earner couple with two children, each earning £15 an hour, will gain £350 due to increases in the personal tax allowance. This aspect of the budget fails to help those who need it most, instead pushing them further into poverty, while simultaneously increasing the incomes of those better off. In a society which has seen an astronomical rise in food bank usage in recent years, with a million now visiting them regularly, how is it justifiable to drag lower incomes down still further, whilst at the same time cutting Corporation Tax from 20% to 18%? We are witnessing a continuation of the shift in the balance of wealth from the poorest in society to the richest.

Some commentators will argue that the inequality which ensues is not important. For example, during his visit to University of York, Mark Littlewood, Director General of the Institute of Economic Affairs, stated that he has no issue with inequality provided people have enough to live on. The use of food banks establishes that many do not have the means to survive. However, inequality has even more adverse effects for society. In The Spirit Level, Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett reveal correlations between income inequality and a number of societal issues, including mental illness, poor health, and poor education. Of course, correlation does not imply causation, but it is not difficult to see how inequality exacerbates such factors. For example, students from low-income backgrounds, who are already at a greater disadvantage in the education system, are further impacted educationally by other factors, such as poor diet, which in turn leads to poor health and concentration. Sadly, this is a narrative which is being played out before our eyes, with teachers increasingly reporting students attending school having not eaten. Education and well being are important for our economy, and inequality has been found to have a negative impact on growth. The OECD has discovered that the UK lost almost 9 percentage points of growth due to rising inequality between 1990 and 2010. Taking all these issues into account, it is not hyperbole to say that Osborne’s policies are a recipe for disaster which will forge an unsustainable and unstable future.

A particularly unsustainable aspect of our economy, which will be fuelled by the budget, is the level of household debt in our economy. In 2014, the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) forecast that in 2019 total household debt would reach 184% of personal income. The impact that the budget will have on low incomes will increase levels of household debt, with more families forced to use payday loans as they struggle to live pay check to pay check. Considering that household debt stood at 169% immediately before the crash in 2008, it is clearly important to curb levels of personal debt to reduce the risk of further financial difficulty. Otherwise, the UK will replay the same mistakes, which many countries took part in, which contributed to the events of 2008: subprime mortgages, banks lacking adequate reserves, and lending money to those who do not possess adequate collateral.

The failure of the chancellor’s budget to adequately address the housing crisis will only worsen this problem. There are approximately 5 million people stuck on social housing waiting lists. The lack of social housing often forces into the more expensive private rental sector, which is a strain on government finances- with the housing benefit bill predicted to rise to £25 billion by 2017. The answer to this, however, is not simply to cap and cut benefits, because the result will be more people thrown into poverty and destitution. A better solution would be to build council housing. However, the budget encourages the very opposite; advocating the selling of council and housing association properties, on top of the coalition’s commitment to the right to buy scheme. Rather than creating the social housing so many desperately need, this government is diminishing the social housing stock. David Cameron pledged to replace the housing stock he sold off when he was in coalition. This did not materialise, so we should be sceptical when the same promise is made in relation to right to buy being extended to housing association properties. The chancellor is adding the replacement of student grants with loans into this equation. These are policies which will create a generation burdened with personal debts. Despite this, it is even questionable that the student finance policy will reap benefits for government finances, with the government themselves admitting that most of the debt will not be repaid. The policy is merely another form of statistical gymnastics by the chancellor, as the loans will not appear in the figures for the deficit; convenient for a chancellor who aims to achieve a budget surplus by the end of the parliament.

Despite the chancellor’s talk of “getting our own house in order”, we are following a path that is not sustainable. We need only look at the exponential growth in fees at American universities, where fees have surged 500% since 1985, to see that our current financial model for our higher education institutions is ludicrous. What happens when fees rise to such an extent that students decide to study elsewhere? The reduction in corporation tax too raises the same question: Where will this all end? In the 1980’s the tax was slashed from 80% to 40%, and subsequent governments, including New Labour, cut it still further. How long can this continue? Considering the fact that the chancellor had only recently cut the tax to 20%, the answer seems to be never. However, the electorate should ask themselves what happens when the race to the bottom with corporation tax ends? If corporation tax is abolished, how will countries compete? Will they cut wages? And what will the loss of a major source of tax income have on our public services? If other taxes are levied or increased, such as VAT, they may not make up the shortfall and will cripple lower-middle income and lower income families and individuals.

The chancellor often speaks of how it is not morally justifiable to pass on debt to the next generation. However, the chancellor’s concern for the next generation seems to have disappeared in this budget, with attacks on young people ranging from the scrapping of student grants, to the removal of housing benefit for 18-21 year olds, to the failure to provide parity in wages for under-25s. He does this under a guise of necessity, but let us ask ourselves: What kind of society do we want to build for our children? Do we want a society in which in which there are very high levels of personal debt and few state-provided public services, in which regressive taxation has replaced progressive taxation, and in which poverty has soared because the heart has been torn out from our welfare system? I propose a different strategy. It is not justifiable for us to leave behind a system for the next generation which does not possess a strong infrastructure to protect its citizens when they are in need, merely because of an ideological obsession with reducing the deficit and debt. Of course, we should try and do so, but not at the expense of people’s lives. Such an approach has not even been shown not to be successful under the last government, with the chancellor having added more debt in five years than Labour did in thirteen, despite draconian cuts.  The debt can be reduced in a more humane manner- creating growth in the economy, cutting housing benefit costs by building social housing and receiving rents and creating employment in the process. We should be trying to increase wages and we should build a welfare system which strenuously tries to provide for the poorest, so that children do not grow up in poverty.

Finally, we should challenge the Tories’ identification as the party of low taxation. The current budget contains £24.6 billion in tax cuts, but £47.2 billion in tax rises- a fact which compromises Osborne’s assertion that he is moving us to a “low tax” economy. Whilst the Conservatives may achieve lower taxes for some, many others are further burdened with taxes. Currently the poorest 10% in the UK pay 45% of their income in taxation, compared to the richest 10%, who pay 34.6%. This is caused by increased regressive taxation and cuts to top rates of tax- both of which have been carried out by the Conservatives. In the 1980’s, when Nigel Lawson gave huge tax cuts for corporations and in the top rate of tax, he also vastly increased the items on which VAT was placed and increased the rate of VAT. The poorest cannot afford such regressive taxation; it makes logical sense that those who have the means to do so should carry the burden. The poor, the disabled, the unemployed, migrant workers- none of them created this crisis- so why should they be the ones bearing the brunt of the cuts? Let’s build a society in which we alleviate the burden of personal debt, create a truly progressive system of taxation, and provide an infrastructure to support the current and next generation.

Student Protests and the Election

In response to the recent General Election results, students at the University of York arranged a protest campaigning against the proposed cuts by the new majority Conservative government, as well as for electoral reform. A heated debate ensued as the decision to conflate the issues of austerity and electoral reform was called into question. Such a decision was, undoubtedly, a poor one.

Electoral reform is one of the most pressing political issues facing us today. There is no denying that it is ludicrous for UKIP to gain the third highest share of the vote, and yet only have one MP. Similarly, the Green Party gained a little under 4% of the vote- under Proportional Representation this would have merited 24 MPs, but under the current system they possess only one. In short, a five-party system is attempting to be born in a system designed for two.

However, to achieve electoral reform, or any wide-ranging reform, requires a mass movement. Sadly, the York protest did precisely the opposite; in conflating anti-austerity and electoral reform, the protest lost rather than gained support. Electoral reform is a cross-party issue, and those who voted Conservative or UKIP would have understandably felt alienated. Indeed, even I, despite believing in both its anti-austerity aims and electoral reform, felt as though I could not attend because it did not offer representation to all those who believe in electoral reform but identify with the right wing.

I spent a long time debating with myself as to whether I had made the right decision. After seeing a short video of the protest on Facebook, I realised I had probably made the right choice. One of the speakers argued that we should expand beyond our left-wing bubble and appeal to UKIP and Tory voters. Such statements are essential in order to achieve the mass movement required for change. Unfortunately, the very nature of the protest, with its conflation of two issues, seemed to me to have already defeated that sentiment. His sentiment was also lost due to his subsequent remarks that “it starts by hating the Tory scum”. This kind of rhetoric, shouted in the middle of a busy street, is completely destructive. Such inflammatory comments merely make those they attack feel alienated- a feeling which is not conducive to engagement in constructive debate and discussion. Respect should be shown to all groups, no matter how different their ideologies may be; it is the only way support can be built to achieve change.

A distinction should be made here- working with others is not the same as capitulating to opposing ideologies, or compromising your own opinions. Rather, it is about remaining open to alternative views so they can be engaged and tested in a clear and open debate, and it is about working together to achieve common goals. If some Conservative and UKIP voters, for example, want to change the electoral system, then those on the left who share that aim should unite with them to achieve that common aim. If we want change, co-operation, but not capitulation, is the key.

Unfortunately, it seems as though, on all sides of the protest and election debates, things have become increasingly inflammatory. There was recently an article in The Telegraph describing “the Left” as “bad losers”. These assertions do not help the debate. Firstly, it is incredibly homogenising to describe all left-wingers as “bad losers”. Left-wing is a broad term which denotes a wide range of beliefs; many on the left may not have even regarded a Labour victory as a victory, and certainly many would not regard Labour as a “left-wing” party in its current incarnation. Furthermore, not all left-wingers are advocating condemning those who voted Conservative. It is also important to remember that hurling insults at those who disagree is not simply some sort of epidemic confined to the left-wing. For example, J.K. Rowling received abuse on Twitter attacking her ideological position because the Conservatives had won the election. All sides have blame to take for precipitating conflict.

To those who supported Labour, or at least would have preferred them to win, we must accept that they have lost the election. Of course, it was an unfair contest in the sense that there was unfounded scaremongering about a Labour-SNP coalition, and there were certainly press attacks on Ed Miliband. However, ultimately, Labour lost through their own faults. They failed to offer a radical alternative and did not maintain a clear position.

Many will argue that radical policies are the path to destruction, but according to the polls, the British electorate were, in many ways, more left-wing than the Labour party. 70% believe in re-nationalisation of rail, whilst Miliband gave a half-hearted offer of the state competing against private service providers. Similarly, 68% believe in bringing energy back into public ownership, but Miliband pledged only an energy price freeze. Ed Miliband should be congratulated on being an improvement on previous leaders Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, because he was more reflective of the views of the electorate; however, he did not make his position clear enough.

The appetite for an alternative exists, but it is a question of engaging in a constructive and open debate, in which we work with other groups to achieve change.

Liebster Awards- Thank you Noor

Where is your favourite place to be?

Having moved around a lot I find it virtually impossible to answer this question. I think living in 5 different places has made me a little confused about where I want to be. My favourite place also seems to fluctuate frequently, because it’s dependent upon how I felt in a place, so if something comes along to change my view of a place I’m undecided again. For the moment I’m tempted to say York, but I suspect that that answer may change in the future.

Who is your hero (fictional or real) and why?

I find it difficult to describe anyone as a hero. There are certainly people I admire, but I think there is a distinction between admiration and heroism. The word hero implies a degree of perfection, and I don’t believe that anyone is perfect; everyone has flaws, and hopefully most people strive to better themselves. For that reason, I am wary of investing myself too heavily in people- you never know when something may shatter your image of someone.

Feelings about the 2015 General Election?

See my previous post.

Do you have a way of picking yourself up when you’re down?

Not particularly, just have to wait for it to subside. I think getting passionate about an issue doesn’t necessarily help in itself, but it often pushes my mood to one side for long enough for me to recover.

Do you think you have changed since being at university?

I think I’ve become a little more confident and more sociable. I also put more thought into responses to issues and I am more open to questioning myself. I’m certainly more left wing than I already was.

How often do you nod or smile, even if you don’t know what’s being said?


Best dessert you’ve ever eaten?

Can’t decide, so I’ll have to say Eton Mess, at Bill’s, in York. I’ll probably change my mind in a minute!

Do you prefer to be alone, in smaller groups, or in big groups?

Generally small groups, but I also need a lot of time on my own.

What do you miss most about your childhood?

It used to be sunnier (at least as I remember it).

Election Result 2015

Those who, like myself, identify as left wing, will be probably demoralised by the fact we have a Conservative majority government. There is no doubt that the next 5 years will be difficult for many of us, with £30 billion of cuts, including £12 billion of welfare cuts. However, in the words of Frederick Douglass, “Power concedes nothing without a demand”. We must keep demanding and we must remain hopeful; demand and hope are catalysts of change. Throughout history remarkable odds have been fought against- those who fought for women’s suffrage, for LGBTQ rights, the Tollpuddle Martyrs, the chartists, those who struggled against apartheid in South Africa are a few examples. The world has witnessed huge changes if we fight for what we believe in, we can change our world. The SNP victory in Scotland, whilst they may not be a socialist party, is proof of how quickly fortunes can change if we compare their number of seats in 2010 to the outcome of the current election. Yes, the future appears bleak, but if we continue to resist, if we continue to voice an alternative, and if we remain united, we can win this battle together.