Ideologies of Europe

Ideologies

I’ve just completed one of my main Summer projects: a video charting the rise and fall of ideologies across Europe over the last few centuries.  For those interested, you can watch it here.

The wide variety of ideas on how we should structure society and govern ourselves which have sprung up from Europe have always fascinated me.  From hereditary monarchies to liberal republics, Communist Utopian dreams to Fascist order and discipline – and even the idea of no structure, no state, in occasional anarchist societies; we’ve attempted the lot.  Most have failed, or been brought down, but there’s no reason to suggest what we’re experiencing now isn’t simply a brief period of calm which, as I discovered while researching the video, are extremely common, before another tumultuous divergence.  My favourite aspect of the video is watching the consensuses change: seeing the ideals of authoritarianism and ‘tradition’ dissolve while new accepted forms of governance emerge.  Is our current system of capitalist democracy here to stay, or will something currently unimaginable one day usurp it?

See, this is a prime example of how studying history is always relevant.  From the past, we can extrapolate the future.

Good News From the States

I’m very pleased with recent political news I’ve been hearing from the USA (that’s not a sentence I get to write every day!).  There have been two major stories which have left a positive impact:

  1. President Obama reveals plan for action on climate change.
    As anyone following American politics will know, the importance of this announcement cannot be understated.  Climate change is an incredibly contentious issue in the USA, with something like a third or more of Americans denying it is an issue or sometimes that it’s even occurring.  The issue was scarcely mentioned during the 2012 presidential election.  Even if you do deny the human influence upon the climate, it just makes sense to gear an economy in preparation for the point of ‘peak fossil fuels’, where the amount of oil, coal and gas extracted will no longer be enough to meet demand.  That the world one day needs to develop a post-carbon economy is undeniable; the earlier we plan this, the better.
    Obama’s plans are admittedly basic, pledging to cut emissions by only 4% of what they they were in 1990 – five times less than the EU is planning – but the fact this process has begun at all is incredible.  Apparently this reduction would be relative to 33% of the UK’s emissions. It’s a start.  I just hope the Republican-dominated Congress won’t give him too much grief over it.  Despite his dubious record on many issues from drones to state surveillance, Obama is proving himself to be a progressive in many ways – being the first sitting President to endorse the right to same-sex marriage, for instance.  Which brings me to…
  2. Supreme Court Gives Positive Ruling for Same-Sex Marriage
    The Supreme Court has ruled that gay couples should receive the same legal rights as any other married couple.  This has invalidated a section of the ridiculous ‘Defence of Marriage Act’ which denied gay married couples the same benefits to tax, healthcare and retirement, among others.  The Supreme Court also ruled that the decision to remove a ban on gay marriage in California cannot be challenged.  This is positive news not only for gay couples but for the nation as a whole.  I’d like to think the country is that bit more tolerant now.

Two bits of great news.  Please don’t let it stop here!  Next I would like to see the nationwide abolition of the death penalty (though it’s gradually creeping in state by state anyway), the closure of Quantanamo Bay and a complete reform of the political system to make it more representative and less of a corporatocracy.  Well… I can dream, can’t I?  An end to slavery would have seemed ridiculous 200 years ago, civil rights laughable 100 years ago and same-sex marriage a joke just 20 years ago.  Anything is possible.

2013 UK Local Elections Analysis

A day or so late with this, but here are the results of Thursday’s local elections:
[PNS = Predicted National Share]

2013 local elections

The news has been reporting these elections as the final breakthrough of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) into British politics; BBC’s political editor Nick Robinson described it as “The day UKIP emerged as a real political force in the land.”  And when you look at the results, there is no denying how well the party has performed.  If every party had stood candidates in every council ward and the votes spread across the country evenly, UKIP is projected to have won 23% of the total vote.  That’s about the same the Liberal Democrats won in the 2010 General Election.  There is no denying Nigel Farage’s claims that UKIP “is here to stay.”  However, lets get these results into perspective.

There is always a party which wins a spectacularly large amount of votes during midterm elections for a government – often referred to as the “protest vote”.  This would normally be the Liberal Democrats, who in 2009 [the last time these seats were up for election] won 28% of the vote.  This went down by 5 percentage points for the following year’s general election, indicating that voting for council seats and voting for the next government are two very different things.  With the Liberal Democrats in coalition with the Conservatives, and Labour still generally quite unpopular, UKIP have begun to vacuum up these disillusioned votes.

Secondly, there seats are generally recognised to be in very right-wing areas.  This is generally to the benefit of the Conservatives, but now have begun aiding UKIP.  Labour traditionally perform poorly in these seats, so the fact they are leading in the votes, even with only 29%, should not be played down.  These UKIP results, considering this and the protest factor, should be seen as the party’s maximum potential under its current level of popularity.  It’s looking very likely that UKIP will elect its first MPs in 2015, but how many?  Even if it does manage to attain a respectable percentage of the vote, it’s going to suffer from the same problem which has blighted the Liberals for decades: our First Past the Post electoral system.  Even for the local elections, despite UKIP achieving 9 percentage points more of the vote than the Liberal Democrats, they won 200 fewer seats.

Reactions to this result within the Conservative Party have ranged from Cameron’s calm resolve of winning back voters to blind panic and demands to hold an EU referendum before the next election.  My fear is that politicians of all parties will begin tripping over themselves to declare harsher and harsher immigration policies i an attempt to stem to flow of voters to UKIP – not something I would like to see.  However Labour, at least, has little to fear from UKIP.  I read a statistic earlier suggesting that Labour didn’t lose a single seat to UKIP, whereas the Conservatives must have lost at least a few good dozen.  Indeed, with Labour retaining David Miliband’s South Shields seat in the by-election and replacing the incumbent mayors in Doncaster and North Tyneside with Labour candidates, this has been a good week for Ed Miliband.  At first glance UKIP would appear to be the true winners of these elections, but upon further inspection I would argue that this title goes to Labour.

(I am a little bit sad the Greens didn’t perform very well, but at least they managed to win a few more seats).

Our Bright Future

I have noticed a growing number of reports in the news recently, about the concerns held by many biological scientists over the possibility of society heading towards a world without antibiotics.  In the last couple of centuries, humanity has launched an all-out assault on the diseases which, for most of history, have had us at their heels.  Since then there seems to have been an arms race between evolving bacteria and developing drugs.  Unfortunately, from my limited knowledge, it seems that we’re creating the conditions which allows these ‘superbugs’ to develop; overusing antibiotics means that the bacteria which, through random mutations, happen to develop an immunity, will be guaranteed to take over as the dominant strain.  The answer is generally to find new drugs, but in the last 30 years or so there has been a distinct lack of new discoveries.  I’m not sure whether this is because there’s no profit motive in doing so or we’ve simply run out of options.  I’m dearly hoping for Explanation 1.

Having grown up in an age of the utmost medical efficiency, where we can realistically expect to live to a grand age, where, until the age of 11 or so, I almost believed science as capable of anything, this concept is shocking.  It’s been compared as great a threat to the UK (and the world, presumably) as terrorism, though I would say it’s far worse than that.  A world in which people can die of infected cuts, where cancer, appendicitis, etc. kill simply as a result of treatment, is utterly terrifying.

The governments of the world need to invest more into scientific research for this issue, or to give companies motivations for conducting their own research.  If the governments can’t be trusted to deal with such a long term issue, which is likely, then international organisations like the European Union or the United Nations should step in and campaign for it.  The problem won’t go away, and needs to be dealt with as soon as possible.  It would be such a drag to get through 40 years of life then die of a paper cut, because governments were too busy trying to save money and avoid upsetting bankers.

Liberal Democrats win Eastleigh By-election

Yesterday’s by-election in Eastleigh, while perhaps lacking great strategic importance, seems to have summarised the state of British politics, half way into our experimental coalition.  The results were as follows:

Mike Thornton (Liberal Democrat) 13,342 (32.06%, -14.48%)

Diane James (UKIP) 11,571 (27.80%, +24.20%)

Maria Hutchings (Conservative) 10,559 (25.37%, -13.96%)

John O’Farrell (Labour) 4,088 (9.82%, +0.22%)

Danny Stupple (Independent) 768 (1.85%, +1.56%)

Dr Iain Maclennan (National Health Action Party) 392 (0.94%)

Ray Hall (Beer, Baccy and Crumpet Party) 235 (0.56%)

Kevin Milburn (Christian Party) 163 (0.39%)

Howling Laud Hope (Monster Raving Loony Party) 136 (0.33%)

Jim Duggan (Peace Party) 128 (0.31%)

David Bishop (Elvis Loves Pets) 72 (0.17%)

Michael Walters (English Democrats) 70 (0.17%, -0.30%)

Daz Procter (Trade Unionists and Socialists Against Cuts) 62 (0.15%)

Colin Bex (Wessex Regionalist) 30 (0.07%)

I’d expected to be wrong in my prediction that the Conservatives would win for the last week or so; I had underestimated the local popularity the Liberal Democrats possessed, Eastleigh being one of the few councils where they have managed to cling on to power since entering government.   I also underestimated the importance of individual candidates.  Still, you live and learn.

This is certainly good news for Nick Clegg, who I imagine will sleep easier with the relief of these results.  This is the first piece of good news in a long list of blows for the Liberal Democrats.  Whether this will become a turning point in their fortunes remains to be seen, although I highly doubt it.  Eastleigh is something of a stronghold for the Liberal Democrats – their greatest threat was to be dislodged by the Conservatives, who performed around 7% behind the Lib Dems in 2010.  Clearly, this never happened, but the Liberal Democrats’ share of the vote has significantly decreased, all the way from 46.5% to 32.06%.  This drop of 14% is, in fact, slightly greater than their decline in national polls since 2010.  So while a victory for Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, they must not be complacent.  They have shown that oblivion might not be on the cusp of their political horizon, but let there be no doubt that an incredible uphill struggle lies ahead if they seek any respectable result in 2015.

The real victors, in my opinion, have been UKIP, who won their greatest ever share of the vote in an election.  This will undoubtedly provide evidence to Nigel Farage’s narrative that UKIP are a rising political force and, I have to admit, I’m wondering whether he is right.  A large proportion of UKIP’s vote is due to the protest factor, with the Liberal Democrats no longer the traditional ‘protest party’.  This phenomenon was seen in last year’s Bradford by-election, in which Respect’s George Galloway won with a significant majority.  Nevertheless, UKIP has established itself as a party with wide support.  If it maintains its current popularity in 2015 there is a good chance is will win its first MPs in the House of Commons, although it will suffer the same vote/seat ratio difference which has plagued the Liberal Democrats as a result of our First Past the Post voting system.  Nigel Farage will be very happy just now.

The two losers of this election, it gives me some pleasure to type, are the UK’s largest political forces, Labour and the Conservatives.  The Conservatives did respectfully, but David Cameron could really have used a victory to help his ailing popularity levels within his own party.  He will also probably be despondent that his declaration to hold a European Union referendum if winning the 2015 General Election has done nothing to stem the growth of UKIP.  Labour likewise should not be too discouraged, due to having a lack of a base to build on.  I’ve read analyses stating that less popular parties often tend to be marginalised in by-elections, which I’d imagine to be the case here.

Most political commentators have stated that by-elections are not of great overall importance, which is true, but they’re still very exciting to examine and pore over.