This article was inspired by last night’s BBC Newsnight debate. This debate was all about the ‘generation gap’ between under 30’s and over 60’s in the UK. They inevitably discussed tuition fees (they used to be free, now they cost £9,000 a year) and job shortages (you used to have loads of offers, now you have unpaid internships). I wrote
I wrote this article because it felt like everyone was going around in circles. They were talking about how unfair it is that things are so different now, but barely anyone tried to explain why things are different. People talk about free tuition fees as if they are the answer to all our problems, but university tuition fees are not the only issue.
How are more graduates going to improve an already overcrowded graduate job market? How is it surprising that it is so much harder to get a job now there is 1: so much more competition and 2: it is so much easier to find and apply for these jobs in the first place. Should we be encouraging more people to go to university? Why should degrees like events management or social care exist? And how can we realistically make things better for the future if we are still stuck in the past? These are the questions I am asking in this article, so if you have a moment it would be great if you could read it and let me know your thoughts!
Despite all claims to the contrary I’ve always tried to avoid the simplistic view that BREXIT was primarily about race and xenophobia. Whilst no one is denying that the ‘breaking point’ campaign and indeed a lot of the leave campaigns rhetoric was focused on immigration (despite EU immigration being limited to Europe these campaigns tried to focus on refugees, which is kind of ironic considering we still have a duty to them with or without our EU membership) there were other factors that would encourage someone to vote leave.
My article on Public Opinion and the Young People Who Voted Leave discusses several of these alternative reasons and shows that many people were influenced by the perceived anti-democratic way the EU was run, they wanted to leave what they saw as a global superpower that was trying to control 28 countries from a remote headquarters, and/or they wanted Britain to have more control over their destiny and economy. It would be very naive to assume that no one voted leave due to racist and/or xenophobic reasons, but the idea that these were the only reasons highlights the remain campaign’s failure to appeal to people in the first place.
Recent events have made me a little disturbed, however.This ‘name and shame’ policy that attempts to look at how many non-British born people work for a particular company does sound quite sinister because the aim appears to be quite clear. This policy seems to have been discontinued due to the backlash it recieved, but the fact that this was an option, the fact that this is what our government wanted to focus on is a little scary and perhaps shows what is to come. According to The Guardian Amber Rudd’s aims were as follows:
“Under her proposals, firms could be forced to disclose what percentage of their workforce is non-British as a way to encourage them to hire more locals. Ms Rudd said she wanted to “flush out” companies abusing existing rules and “nudge them into better behaviour”.
Whether they publish their findings or not the goal seems to be to check how many migrants compared to how many British born people work for a particular company and if they are not satisfied that British people are getting first pick at the jobs they may take measures to encourage the company in question to focus on British applicants and give them first choice for employment. I am not sure if these policies will focus on people who weren’t born in the U.K themselves or people whose ancestors were immigrants, nor do I know whether it will focus on a particular group (i.e European immigrants or non-EU immigrants).
I also don’t know if ‘British born’ is going to be based on race or residential status and how that’s going to be qualified (will Amber Rudd count you as a British citizen if you weren’t born in Britain but have British citizenship? Will a recent immigrant with a better application be turned away in favour of someone who has no relevent experience but is a Britis citizen?) but either way this seems very contradictory to our apparent commitment to inclusion and the need to encourage a more representative, diverse workforce not only so our workforce reflects the country we actually live in but so we don’t end up with stale ideas and we don’t miss out on talent.
We already know that we have a problem with diversity in British industries, and even though we have schemes and quota systems in place to encourage a more diverse workforce they don’t always seem that effective. We know, for example, that around 8% of the Creative sector (i.e media, film and art-based jobs) are nonwhite, and when we consider that a lot of these jobs are based in London where the demographic is roughly around 40-60% this is quite shocking. (source here: http://www.gold.ac.uk/news/the-creative-industries-and-meritocracy/)
From a quick Google search on the subject I found the following statistics:
- Black workers with degrees earn 23.1% less on average than white employees with the qualifications
- Ethnic minority people were more likely to live in poverty than white people
- Ethnic minorities are still “hugely under-represented” in positions of power – such as judges and police chiefs (info found here: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-37114418)When they are talking about hiring more locals, what jobs do they mean? Do they mean the NHS where a significant portion of the workforce is made up of Non-British born staff? Do they mean the jobs many British people simply don’t want to do or don’t have the skills for? Do they mean the more competitive industries where diversity is still a real issue? And what do they mean by foreigners? Is this based on your race, where you were born, or is it simply how soon it was that you moved to the UK? If you were brought up here and lived most of your life here but you happened to be born in another country how do you fit in? How do you qualify a British person and how do you qualify a non-British person?
It is hard to get a job in the U.K and a lot of this is because there is too much competition for certain jobs, not enough jobs to go around and a real preference for free labour under the guise of ‘internships’. How we could sort that out is a whole other issue, but the solution isn’t to close off all opportunities to people who ‘aren’t British enough’ if they have the skills that the particular job needs. Surely if companies are encouraged to hire as many ‘British’ workers as possible it will exasperate inequalities. Surely changing hiring policies so ‘the British come first’ would increase racial profiling? Surely ‘British Jobs for British workers’ is quite an open statement which doesn’t really mean anything, because who is British and who isn’t? What are you basing that on?
Since my country voted by a small margin to leave the E.U on Thursday, things have gone a bit crazy. Our prime ministers resigned and it looks like we now have a choice between Boris Johnson, a very memorable public figure but not exactly a trustworthy leader who is reported as being homophobic, and Theresa May, a sour faced woman who has said some nasty things about refugees in the past. The Labour parties falling apart; Jeremy Corbyn, who wasn’t exactly vocal during the referendum campaign, has had his leadership challenged and has now lost 23 members of his cabinet and counting. Neither party looks prepared to lead this country in regular times, let alone sort out a Brexit, and no one really knows whats going to happen next.
Our pounds fallen to a 31 year low, some stock shares are falling, the future of our city is in question and the people continue to fight amongst themselves. It also looks, although no one can be sure, that the leading lead campaigners are now having a change of heart. Boris Johnson has assured the public nothing immediate is going to happen, that we will have a continued partnership with the E.U and this decision will not affect our universities, science, arts or the ability to live abroad. But how is that the case? Does that mean we will stay (and pay) for the single market? Whilst that is the scenario I personally am hoping for, the fact that so much of the leave campaign was about immigration and about us making our own trade deals, how will those who voted leave for this reason react when they realise nothing in that area will change? If we stay in the single market, that means we will also accept the continuing free movement of people. I would be very happy with this result, but many won’t be. Can the leave campaign betray their own supporters and take back their own words like that?
Of course they can. Their politicians.
I always feel that you can never totally trust politicians, but not because they are all scumbags who lie to get votes. You can’t trust them because the public again and yet again assumes they have far more power then they actually do. Look at what happened to poor Nick Clegg when he had to retract his promises over tuition fees.
David Cameron had as much to do with putting them up, but because Nick Clegg made the mistake of promising something, something he probably didn’t know he couldn’t deliver, he paid the price. The fact is that under the current system tuition fees couldn’t have stayed the same price. If you have as many universities as we have, and if more and more people start going each year, people the government gives tuition and maintenance loans to, what happens is that if these people fail to get well paid jobs quickly (which, as the degree keeps falling in value and as it is getting harder and harder to get a graduate position, is quite likely) the government is basically giving away more money then it is getting back. In that situation they either need to throw far more money into education, we can debate about whether they could do that or not, or they need to raise the prices so eventually they may break even (which they won’t).
Nick Clegg made a mistake, but it wasn’t not keeping loans the same price. He made the mistake of making people believe he could, made the mistake in becoming too popular. That was his downfall, because now people will always blame him for it regardless if it was actually his fault or not.
That was a pretty long analogy, but it may well end up applying to the leave campaigners as well. I’m not saying Nigel Farrage didn’t lie about his claims that money saved on the E.U would be spent on the NHS (he most definitely did, we’ve all seen the bus) or that these politicians shouldn’t be held accountable for their broken promises, even if they are promises you didn’t personally want in the first place, but the public isn’t blameless either. The public cannot assume that the government has all these over arching powers that can totally rewrite reality. Individual politicians will never be able to deliver all that they promise because none of them have that much individual power. That is what living in a democracy means. That is why it is up to the public to research their claims and make an informed decision for themselves. That is why it is up to the press not only to report but to analyse and to explain what they are actually saying and what the reality may be.
I don’t know, again I don’t think any of us know right now, but in the short term at least it may not be possible to totally break from the E.U. And whilst it is acceptable to blame the politicians for not following through with their pre-referendum promises, it is also not acceptable to believe everything they say as fact and not do your own research. People are saying they feel cheated, that they didn’t understand the referendum, voted leave and now ‘want their votes back’. This makes me angry. If you wanted to leave, and you knew why you wanted to leave, then fair enough. But if you are going to live with your head under a rock for all of your life, take it out really briefly, believe a bunch of confusing things a bunch of confusing politicians said and then get upset when it turns out it wasn’t strictly true, then you don’t get my sympathy. This is why voting shouldn’t be made compulsory; if someone doesn’t really know what they are voting for, then why should they be obliged to vote?
This has been a pretty intense week. After a ten and a half hour debate in the house of commons on Wednesday the UK government voted in favour of extending air strikes to Syria and contributing to a bombing coalition with the US and France in that country. After the decision was broadcast, a lot of people took to social media to voice their opinions. I have personally seen far more comments against the motion than I have for, but it would be wrong to say that public opinion is unanimously or extremely against the strikes. Public opinion is never unanimous, and not everyone takes to social media to voice their opinions. There are a lot of arguments on both sides, and both are right in parts and wrong in others.
The idea that military action should never be an option is frankly un-realistic, and some people seem to have bought into the hype surrounding this vote and decided that it means the UK will personally start dropping thousands and thousands of bombs on innocent people. This is an overstatement. The UK is contributing a small number of air crafts to an existing operation, and it has basically been admitted that our contribution is unlikely to make a significant difference, they are also meant to be targeting Daesh only and avoiding civilian areas. They are not trying to target civilians and they claim that the RAF has not killed a single civilian during the already existing operation in Iraq, in reality this is very hard to prove because of the sheer depth of destruction in this region and dubious sources, and we may never know for sure if this is true or not. We also do not know and may never know how many civilians are going to be effected or killed by extending the operations in Syria.
Syria is already being heavily bombed by different, overlapping forces and there doesn’t seem to be much proof that it is helping to end or even significantly hurt Daesh, but if there was a proper ground force and a realistic chance at a peace settlement it would be a helpful to weaken them, scatter them and help cut off their resources. As we do not have these things, I do not feel the bombing campaign is the best course of action, and I have not been convinced by any of the frankly half baked, rushed or non-relevant arguments by the MP’s or those who support this.
Some things came up in the debate, including Cameron’s assertion that bombing Syria will somehow make us safer in the UK and all the hype about Hilary Benn’s speech. There is also a very important issue no one seems to be thinking about, which is very worrying as it is extremely relevant to our security and the future of Syria.
I’m going to attempt to address these, but this is a very complex and multi-faceted issue and I’m not going to pretend to know what the best course of action should be. It does worry me that these points don’t seem to have been acknowledged adequately by parliament.
Firstly, the idea that bombing Syria will make us safer does not make sense to me. And the reason for this is simple. Although Daesh currently has its headquarters in Syria, the attacks that happened in Paris were carried out by those in Paris, not in Syria. The people who carried out the attacks may have been to Syria, they were in touch with people in Syria, but they were born in and residents of the EU. So although people who support Daesh and subscribe to their views are likely to be in touch with people in Syria, and as we know hundreds of people from our own country have travelled to, and worryingly back, from Syria, if attacks happen in this country they are very likely to be carried out by people already here, and therefore bombing Syria will not stop their ability to carry out attacks on our countries, and is likely to make ‘revenge attacks’ more likely, as well as potentially so called lone wolf attacks, by people inspired by but not directly connected to Daesh.
There is another reason as well. It is not just extremists who dislike our respective governments and the actions they have carried out in the past and continue to carry out now. There are thousands of people who hate the very notion of religious murder and the whole idea of Daesh who also hate our government and their previous actions in the Middle East. There are plenty of people who see the war in Iraq as nothing more than a cold, calculated war crime and believe that those who were involved are murderers. And there are also plenty of people who disagree strongly with the decision taken on Wednesday, because they believe it is to do with oil and our governments collective greed. These are non radicalised and often peaceful people who hold these views. These are not limited to extremists. The reason Daesh’s propaganda works is because some of it is based on truth. Not the idea that there is some apocalyptic crusade in which they are fighting, and not the idea that murdering innocent people is going to result in some heavenly reward. But we do have a complicated, long running and often nasty history not just with the middle east but with most places around the world. This is not because people in our countries are abnormally evil, but because human history is full of people doing horrific things to each other all over the world. There is no way to excuse the murders these people have carried out in Europe or abroad. These people have murdered thousands within Syria and continue to stone, torture and execute any dissenters or anyone who even vaguely strays from their vision of Islam and their strict rules on behaviour. They have also filled mass graves with all the people they decided not to rape. And they have and continue to carry out horrific attacks outside of Syria, including our neighbors in France. These actions can never be excused; as human action goes these are among the most evil it could be and I hope everyone reading this is under no delusion that this is the case. But that does not mean that our countries actions over the last twenty years were any less terrible, that innocent people have not died during these ‘liberation’ wars. The ‘west’ are at least partly responsible for the hell that Daesh was born out of. This is by no means the only factor, but it is a factor, and until we stop ignoring our past mistakes we cannot hope to beat this propaganda. There is also the fact that these people want to be martyred, and they want the west to commit atrocities because it furthers their cause.
This does not mean military action is not an option, but it does mean we have to be more careful when applying it and ensuring that it is part of a comprehensive plan, not just war for the sake of looking like we are doing something.
Secondly, Hilary Benn’s speech was really not all that. In terms of rhetorical devices and the art of public speaking, it wasn’t bad. He had a good use of tone, he applied several effective rhetorical devices and he had good presence. He would have done any debating club proud. But the actual words he said did not offer anything new to the debate, in fact in terms of addressing the issues at hand he failed on several accounts. He played it in such a way that everyone could agree with it without him actually having to say anything of note, and it worked very well for him. His analogy with ‘facism’ was effective because it invoked our feelings about Nazism, but it did not address the issue. This is not the same situation as it was during the second world war not least because warfare has changed a considerable amount. This is not fighting them on the grounds, seas and skies, and fighting a clear army with equal footing, this is dropping a few bombs a week from a great hight and adding slightly to the destruction of a country.
Most of his speech concerned the need to fight Daesh in general. No one was disputing that we needed to take action against them, the issue at hand was whether contributing air strikes, and a small number of air strikes at that, is the right approach to tackle them, not whether we should fight them at all. And he does address that where he says: “Look at how their military capacity and their freedom of movement has been put under pressure. Ask the Kurds about Sinjar and Kobane. Now of course air strikes alone will not defeat Daesh, but they make a difference because they are giving them a hard time and it is making it more difficult for them to expand their territory.”. I find that pretty weak, because whilst it may slow them down, it does not mean they cannot regain the territory fairly quickly without ground forces to stop them and as we have seen in the campaign that is already happening whilst they have been stopped in some areas, they have gained territory in others. Without an effective ground army to keep them from regaining this territory, bombing will at best have very limited success.
His mentioned the ‘ground troops’ that we are relying on to hold the territory being bombed “But I tell you what else we know: it’s whatever the number – 70,000, 40,000, 80,000 – the current size of the opposition forces mean the longer we leave taking action, the longer Daesh will have to decrease that number” is also not a strong statement, in fact it highlights how little we know about these troops we are relying on, especially as they are very likely to have their own agendas. Some of these fighters are fighting for democracy, and some for their right to their own country, and some are doing very well and establishing free societies within that country, but others are not. If we train and equip these people, it is quite likely if we are able to defeat Daesh someone else will easily be able to take their place. The PM has basically admitted that some, who knows how many, are from Al Qaeda, the people we spent the last ten+ years fighting. There are many interests at work here, and I think it is extremely naive to think we can unite them all and control them, especially if they are not sure what we are offering them at the end of all this. And his statement “We are part of a coalition of over 60 countries standing together shoulder to shoulder to oppose their ideology and their brutality.” is something I’m really not convinced about. I’ve tried to find a list of every country involved in this ‘coalition’, and so far I have found around 24 countries with varying levels of involvement, as well as an array of local forces within the region. If anyone has any information on the other 36 countries apparently involved please let me know, otherwise I fail to understand where this figure has come from.
It was not a bad speech, but I do not believe it, or he, deserves the hype. I do not feel he gave a convincing argument for whether the UK contributing to air strikes would make a significant positive contribution to this war. He did attempt address these points, although I do not believe he did so very well, but he spent far more rallying everyone up by making statements that are both easy to agree with and largely empty.
The third and perhaps most pressing point is that this war is far more complex then the MPs made out on Wednesday. It is not a case of a united country being invaded by Daesh that will go back to normal once they are removed. The civil war was not started because of Daesh, Daesh was just able to capitalize on it because of the chaos that was already happening. And the civil war will not stop with their removal. There are many differing and often un-compatible interests in Syria, and it is far more complex than it sounded during the debate. President Assad has most probably killed more Syrians than Daesh have, and many Syrian people have fought for years to remove him. So when and if we can defeat Daesh, there will be a few options, and none of them are ideal. Firstly, we could say that our sole aim was to defeat Daesh and now we will withdraw military action, in which case the chaos is likely to continue and a similar group will sooner or later have the opportunity to emerge, or that Assad will regain power (in which case see point three). We could go against Russia and say that we will continue to fight, and therefore fight Russia to remove Assad, which is likely to anger Iran and Russia and could potentially lead to World War Three. Wars have started for less. Or we could side with Russia and turn the country over to Assad, which is probably the most likely plan, which would be a betrayal of the Syrian people who have spent years in a hellish war. To say all of that was for nothing and that things would be set back to how they were before this all started is almost guaranteed to turn these people against us, and out of all the possible scenario’s the fact will remain that we will have proved to the world we only care about those who directly effect us and are perfectly happy to work with murderous dictators and turn a blind eye to their domestic policies as long as they are friendly to us. Some people are comparing this to Iraq, but it is not the same. It is not a case of us invading a country for no reason and removing a dictator with no end plan, many people in Syria have already risen up against Assad. We are not enforcing this from our comfortable plushy offices overseas, many people in Syria have fought for this for years.
There is no easy answer to this issue, all have the potential to be very messy and unpleasant, and I am not sure anyone really knows how to deal with it if and when it does come up. What I do know is that by rushing into an air strike on Syria we have thrown ourselves into a much bigger conflict than we would like to think about, and the assertion that it is hardly an issue because the borders are not recognized by Daesh is not the point. The point is that the situation in Syria is not the situation in Iraq, and now we have committed ourselves to something I am not convinced any of the MP’s really understand. I am not saying military action is the wrong approach, and at some point it would probably have been necessary. But I feel they should have spent far longer thinking about the immediate as well as the future consequences and thought up at least the beginnings of a solid plan before engaging these air strikes. The Vienna talks are intended to solve this issue, but I can’t see that happening any time soon, and until they do the situation remains uncertain with or without Daesh. This was not just extending the war. This was much more than that, and to say it is not is to lie to the public.
I just read an article on the BBC website which details how the Royal Society for Public Health has called for a smoking ban in pub gardens and public spaces because: “smoking should be seen as “abnormal” and more controls are needed to cover areas where people gather.”, they suggest that anyone who wants to smoke in these areas should make do with e-cigarettes, that all cigarette sellers should also sell e-cigarettes, and that smoking in public places suggests to children that smoking is ‘normal’ and acceptable.
Now, I love e-cigarettes. I started smoking when I was 16, I ‘quit’ two years later and apart from when I drink/go out/feel extremely stressed I normally smoke e-cigarettes rather than regular cigarettes in day to day life. I totally dismiss claims that they are worse for you, or even as bad, as regular cigarettes because you can feel the difference when you smoke them, walking up stairs is easier, working out is easier and your lungs feel better. I’m not saying they are safe, we won’t know their long term affects for some time, but just from using common sense we can assume with our current knowledge that they are significantly better for you than smoking a real cigarette. And I think more people should try them, they should be more readily available and, perhaps at some time in the future, they will become more popular then regular cigarettes. And smoking isn’t good, aside from cancer/strokes/heart disease they can cause less harmful but still life changing daily effects, like a permanent cough, shortness of breath, and causing you to be generally less fit and more susceptible to disease.
However, this ban isn’t going to stop people smoking, or make them switch to e-cigarettes if they don’t want to. Smoking is incredibly addictive, and even if it was made completely illegal it still wouldn’t go away, you would just create a massive new underground market and your average smoker would be transformed into a criminal purely for sticking to their habit. Stopping people smoking in a beer garden won’t stop them smoking, it will just make life more annoying for them, and I don’t really see who its going to benefit. It’s not about second hand smoke, the proposers of the report admitted that this isn’t the motivation, it is more to send a message to children that smoking is wrong, and to make it harder and harder for adults to do it in the hope that they will give up and quit. But stopping people smoking in pub gardens won’t stop children smoking and will not stop children seeing adults smoke, especially as there are likely to be more children on your average street where people are still allowed to smoke then in a pub garden, people may also be physically closer together on the street (especially a narrow or a busy street) and therefore more at risk to second hand smoke then they would be sitting tables apart in a garden. If anything smoking in the beer garden is safer for non-smokers then making it so all smokers must smoke outside the pub in the street and waft their smoke at passers by, and they may actually be more visible to more children walking down the street. Children may start to smoke for a variety of reasons, and they will continue to regardless of adults now not being able to smoke in parks and pub gardens. In fact, making smoking less and less acceptable may make it seem even ‘naughtier’ then it is now, and young teenagers trying to rebel may be even more likely to turn to it.
The fact is that the dangers of smoking are well known, and everyone is aware of them. Because they are well known more and more people are choosing not to smoke, and are choosing to switch to e-cigarettes. But it has to be a choice that they make for themselves, and should not be enforced upon them. Many people are choosing to smoke e-cigarettes not because the government is making them but because their friends smoke them and they want to give them a try, or because they want to stop the harmful effects of smoking but do not want to quit nicotine or the ritual/feeling/experience of smoking, and this is a very good thing, but you cannot make people switch, the choice has to come from them. Because enforcing it won’t stop people smoking. We should teach the dangers of smoking in schools (if we don’t already) and we should encourage e-cigarette use where possible, but it is not up to the government or any advisory body to ban the use of smoking in an area that does not cause harm to anyone other than the smoker, which is quite unlikely to happen if you are not standing directly nearby the smoker and you are outside. Whatever your opinions on smoking, or whether or not you smoke yourself, the fact is that it is a legal choice that many people choose to do regardless of the health problems they will probably experience as a result, and we should advise and educate where we can but ultimately respect a persons own responsibility and ownership, if you will, of their own body. Victimizing smokers and making it more and more socially un-acceptable may discourage people from starting, but ultimately the biggest discouragement to becoming a smoker should be the health concerns, and if someone chooses to become a smoker whilst knowing these concerns I don’t think not being able to smoke in certain places is going to make a big difference. Relaxing in the park with a cigarette, or smoking in the pub garden with a drink, are enjoyable experiences for many smokers, and if there are no real health benefits to be found from banning them (which I really don’t think there is), then I see no reason why we should ban them just to punish smokers for doing something perfectly legal that only really hurts themselves.
The article: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-33883188