My Issues with Westminster Politics

I’ve noticed that, other than to discuss opinion polling (a post on which is overdue), I don’t tend to speak about British politics very much on this blog.  This isn’t because it doesn’t interest me, nor because I don’t follow it.  I just don’t tend to have much to say, for some reason or another.  I think this may partly be due to the fact that, regarding Westminster at any rate, I tend to feel a general antipathy towards the entire system.  I dislike our monarchical system, I blame the electoral system for a large number of problems our country faces – or, at least, for limiting our solutions – and I don’t feel inspired by any of the major parties:

The Conservative Party
My views tend to veer to the left so, clearly, the UK’s main right-wing party does nothing for me.  I oppose our current Conservative-led government’s obsessive drive to enforce austerity upon us, thereby punishing the weakest of our society for a crisis they didn’t cause.  While recognising the private sector has its place I oppose the relentless agenda of privatisation they’re enforcing upon us.  Ridiculous assaults on people in need of benefits with policies such as the ‘bedroom tax’ are disgraceful.  While I am thankful for David Cameron’s somewhat moderate leadership, trying to reign in the Eurosceptic backbenches and pushing through gay marriage, I still think he is a poor prime minister.

Same as the Conservatives, but worse.  As someone who is pro-Europe, pro-immigration, pro-renewable energy but not particularly fond of pubs, I don’t think I have a single thing in common with this party.

I really want to like Labour.  In theory the mainstream party of social democracy, my amateur opinion is that it abandoned this title long ago.  New Labour did some great things – most of which were before I became politically aware – my favourite of which is introducing the minimum wage, but it seemed to bow to the concept of privatised, unadulterated individualism which Thatcher imposed upon the country.   More shockingly, I’ve read a few criticisms from Labour supporters at the flimsiness of Labour’s policies which, after a whole 13 years of being implemented, are easily being torn away in a fraction of the time by our current coalition government.  If Labour were to promise some real, left-wing progressive policies – nationalisation of the railways,  ambitious cuts to carbon emissions, the scrapping of Trident and a proper, growth-focused alternative to austerity, to name a few – I might change my mind.  As it is, we have a shadow cabinet which has stated it will more or less continue the coalition’s austerity drive and is currently tearing itself apart over the role of unions in the party.  I’m not well informed enough about this issue to make a detailed comment but, without the unions, what would be the point of Labour?  They’d simply be a less scary version of the Conservatives.

Liberal Democrats
I think people have been too harsh to the Liberal Democrats at times.  As a junior partner in a coalition, with less than 1/5 of the seats the Conservative party have (they should have three times as many but, you know, our electoral system…) they really can’t be expected to live up to all of their promises.  That said, Liberal Democrat policies have taken such a beating in this government – tuition fees, changing the electoral system, reforming the House of Lords, etc – that I’m amazed any of their MPs see the coalition as still being worthwhile.  I suspect they’re staying in only in the hope that their abysmal poll performance improves.  The last three years has been proof that a vote for the Liberal Democrats is in reality a vote for either Labour or Conservative, depending whichever performs better.  That said, of the four they would still probably be my preferred option, if only because they are the only party seeking to reform the electoral system and end this straitjacket upon British politics.

It’s not the only reason, but an electoral system which only lets our vote count for two almost identical parties is why I largely feel disillusioned with Westminster politics and why I have far more confidence in the Scottish system.  I’m sure I can’t be the only person being pushed by this charade towards viewing Scottish independence as a positive thing.

Nevertheless, I will try to pay greater attention to developments in both UK and Scottish politics, and I’ll make an effort to blog about them a little more.  I doubt that will do much for my lack of faith but it might make it more justified.  If you disagree with any of this, please let me know why!


Thoughts on Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class

I’ve been writing too much about economics, politics and the class system recently, so I’ll keep this brief to avoid repeating myself.  Chavs: The Demonization of the Working Class, by the rising author, columnist and commentator Owen Jones, takes a unique look at the British class system.  He presents his theory that class is not a redundant issue in modern society, particularly as we enter this ‘Age of Austerity’.  His main focus is to condemn the demonization working class people face by the media and politicians, of ‘benefit scroungers’ living on council estates – all of whom can supposedly be described as ‘chavs’.  He also goes into the reasons for a political shift from working to improve working class conditions to helping people escape working class conditions.

The book is a very thorough examination of the issues.  It is extraordinarily well researched – on every page you can expect a a newspaper, politician or campaigner to be quoted, alongside several statistics.  I can’t imagine how much effort it must have taken to compile the evidence.  This accumulates to build an worthy case for Jones’ beliefs, which I was mostly convinced by at the book’s end.  What makes the book truly admirable is that it attempts to understand the reasons behind poverty and antisocial behaviour.  In the updated preface, Jones mentions differing reactions to the 2011 England Riots, from “lock up the mindless criminals!” to “maybe we should look at why this happened.”  Jones opts for the second, and rightly so; unfortunately there does not appear to be a consensus among politicians over the riots – our leadership seems to be pretending they didn’t happen and, likewise, pretending they won’t happen again.

Despite my deep praise for the book, there are a few points I wasn’t entirely convinced by. Jones argues that Margaret Thatcher’s policies as Prime Minister (1979 – 1992) were terrible for the UK, through her victories against the unions, thus limiting the power of workers to contest their working conditions, the destruction of traditional industries like mining – which have left countless communities shattered, broken and lost – and depleting the council housing stock through the “right to buy” scheme whilst not building any more.  On each of these points I mostly agree, but I would question his narrow approach to Thatcher’s policies.  Far as I am from a supporter of Conservative policies, I don’t think it’s fair to put the blame for the decline of traditional industries solely on Thatcher.  Depletion of core resources, international competition and the loss of a ready-made market through the British Empires had also been causing a decline for many decades; between 1913 and 1970, for instance, the number of coal mines in South Wales had already dropped from 630 to 54.  Thatcher’s policies may have finished these industries off, but they by no means caused the decline.

He also seems to glorify the traditional industries.  I can accept that industries like mining and manufacturing did form the heart of communities, and that their destruction has helped to cause the social problems of unemployment, drug use, depression etc. that we see today; that holes exist in communities which service-based jobs such as supermarkets have failed to adequately fill.  Yet, perhaps this was not his intention, but the book seems to lament the loss of a time when there were pre-made jobs for men to go into, jobs which were passed down from father to son, jobs which generally were not seen as jobs for women.  That, to me, seems no better than the state the country is in today.

I am glad, however, that Jones takes a balanced view towards the political parties.  Despite being a member of the Labour Party, he is perfectly willing to condemn its policies during its time in power (1997 – 2010).  Not as devastating as the Conservative rule, but certainly made no real effort to reverse the changes.

Overall, Chavs is a highly successful book at making you think, and consider things you may have previously thought nothing of.  It paints a terrifying view of Britain, a view which is actually quite foreign from my own experiences.  Living in Shetland, where we’re sustained by the generally unchanging (for now) oil and fishing industries, I really haven’t witnesses the social deprivation seen in other parts of the UK.  I hope the book is at least slightly an exaggeration

The Immorality of Lottery Tickets

The idea of lotteries really, really annoy me.  They’re the biggest con in modern history, as well as a highly negative reflection on the human race.  Let me explain – I’ll concentrate on the UK’s ‘National Lottery.’

Firstly, the Lottery shows how we as a society, or perhaps as a species, are obsessed with money.  Every week millions of people in the UK spend money on a lottery ticket.  Tickets cost £1, so over a lifetime someone could easily spend thousands of pounds on lottery tickets.  The chances of simply winning this back once is about 1/80,000 and the chances of winning a jackpot are 1/14,000,000.  Some people will buy more than one ticket a week.  So millions of people are, effectively, throwing thousands of pounds away in their lifetimes for no gain, no investment, no returns.  They know this yet they continue anyway.

This has the more sinister side effect of, very gradually, concentrating wealth.  The lottery is, when simplified, a system which literally takes money from the majority and gives it to the minority.  A very, very small number of people become millionaires at the expense of a gradual attrition of the rest of the country’s money.  It’s the perfect system.  People pay into it, or should I say are conned into it, by the hope of winning a fortune.  It’s a caricature of pure capitalism, only without the shame.

This wealth leads to power because, in our society, money = power.  It’s not as much of a problem in the UK as it would be in, say, the USA, but money still gives someone massive influence.  Not in the form of corruption – I would hope – but in other, more subtle methods, such as in investments or trusts.  I don’t claim to know a lot about how rich people use their money, and I hope I never will, but the fact rich people are powerful cannot be denied.  Giving an average, random person this much power – or any unelected person for that matter – is deeply irresponsible as a society.

Now I know there are good sides to the Lottery.  A significant amount of profits are taxed by the government, which can then (in theory) be used on services in the welfare state, or on infrastructure, or any other investment which helps the people of our country as a whole.  In addition, huge fortunes which are left unclaimed regularly end up being donated to charity, which will be a massive benefit in this Age of Austerity to struggling causes.  However, having positive points does not stop the Lottery being the immoral con that it is.