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So No-one Got A Maximum Sentence. Get Over It.

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs, Judicial Spotlight, Law And Order on September 15, 2010 at 11:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

Part of September’s Law And Order Series

Every now and then, I read an article in a newspaper that really riles me up. What I particularly hate is when they use statistics in some really quite awful ways to draw certain conclusions which, quite frankly, I don’t share, but which they seem to presume everyone should. Usually its something from the Sun, or the Mirror, or some other tabloid with certain political prejudices that pamper to their readers. Unfortunately, this “statistic bashing” also seems to occasionally affect the ‘quality’ press, something that deeply worries me.

There are two articles in question, both of which are from The Daily Telegraph. The first is entitled “Revealed: Not A Single Burglar Gets Maximum Jail Sentence”. The second is called “Only Criminals Have Respect For Lenient Judges”. Guess what slant the Telegraph was going for.

For those of you who can’t guess from the titles, Ministry of Justice statistics have revealed that pretty much no-one has received any of the maximum jail sentences available for certain crimes. Whilst I have no idea where the idea of maximum jail sentences came from (perhaps someone can enlighten me, I know the Labour government introduced a lot of minimum sentences for certain crimes), it is apparently shocking, wrong, and shows how we’re weak on crime – and in particular, how bad our judicial system is for having such liberal and lenient judges on the bench.

I want to tackle these articles in several ways.

Firstly, I would like all to be reminded of the value of judicial independence. Believe it or not, we actually quite want an independent judiciary. That means we have judges that are not influenced or controlled by the government, or the media for that matter. Both Dixon and Davies in the first article imply heavily (without saying it), that the government should pretty much force the judges to give out harsher sentences; I would say that giving the government any sort of power over the judges is another step into the creation of an authoritarian government, which would be bad for all sorts of reasons (lack of proper governmental scrutiny, loss of checks and balances, positive virtues of the separation of powers). But worse of all is the Telegraph View, that “…ultimately, it is the people, not the judges, who are sovereign”. Ok, so I guess that means if the “people” wanted to go lynch a man who they thought might have committed a crime, but had no evidence for it, they can go do so because they’re “sovereign” and all that? Thankfully, there are judicial processes that prevent that, and sovereignty rests not in the people, but in the rights of the individual which the judiciary is sworn to protect against the over-mighty power of the majority.

Secondly, I would like to remind all that it is all very well looking at statistics, but that is not what judges do; instead, they look at things through a case by case basis in order to take in particular circumstances. Sometimes, this might mean the judges hand out excessive amounts of punishment, sometimes it might mean they hand out nothing more than a slap of the wrist. What is guaranteed (mostly) is that the judge will base you on your circumstances, not some quota put into law forcing you to serve a disproportionate amount of time. The alternative that the Telegraph et al seem to suggest is having some sort of quota ensuring a certain number of people receive the far end of the scale; maybe the worst 10% of criminals get the worst punishment possible every year? A very fine idea, unless you’re unlucky enough to be caught doing a minor theft towards the end of the year, whose punishment should be community service, but end up doing the 10 years reserved for drug dealers and repeat offending robbers. Besides, quotas for the number of people being caught and sentenced for certain crimes? As much as I hate to make the Association Fallacy, the parallels with Stalin in the 1930s are almost too good not to mention.

Thirdly, there is a horrible assumption here that prison works, which I thought in this day and age was gone alongside the belief that the Sun goes around the Earth. For some reason, the quote that “Prison is an expensive way of making bad people worse” comes to mind. There aren’t many Conservative politicians I like, but I respect Douglas Hurd for saying that, because he was so very right. Whilst prison serves a primary purpose of quarantine, that is, keeping people away from society so as not to commit more crimes i.e. for the general safety of the public, and this certainly works, the other aim of preventing re-offending by deterrence or rehabilitation clearly does not. And then we can ask the question, “Would society be safer by locking all the bad people up, or by getting the bad people to stop being bad before they get worse?”. If the former, feel free to build about a million more prison places (I hear Australia still has a few places). If the latter, maybe its time for newspapers like the Telegraph to stop making the simplistic assumption that prison is the best solution, and start thinking about giving a properly thought-out article that looks at several interpretations of the same data. Leave the shamelessly opinionated pieces to bloggers like us.

You Can’t Have Freedom Without Law

In Law And Order on September 1, 2010 at 6:48 pm

By Stephen Wan

Part of September’s Law and Order Series

A powerful military, and a powerful police force, are necessary preconditions for any free society, to prevent anarchistic chaos.

"On The Edge"When it comes to discussing how important the law and government is to human society, the first thing to do is to head off criticisms from anarchists, who claim that all government is necessarily a restriction of freedom, and that a government is both morally wrong and practically inferior to a stateless society.

Let’s blow out the main assumption that anarchists make – that humans are morally perfect, or perfectible given the right circumstances. As any liberal mugged by reality will tell you, human beings inevitably tend towards doing the wrong, not the right, unless there is some sort of harsh restriction or penalty put on doing the wrong things. That kind of punishment can only come from a government which has the sole, legitimate right to use violence and coercion to keep people in line. Simple things like peer pressure will not be enough, as some anarchists may claim, to keep the strong from taking advantage over the weak.

Furthermore, if you do happen to live in a stateless society, the vast majority of your life is going to be dedicated to trying to defend your life and property from others who want to take it from you. It would be “brutish, nasty and short” as Hobbes once said. There may, in one sense, be an absence of external restrictions on what you can or cannot do, but there isn’t the ability to enjoy that kind of freedom, because of the dangers posed by other individuals. It’s not just theoretical freedom that people are interested in – it’s the actual ability to enjoy it that matters.

In short, we would be better off with a government – the question is, do we want a stronger government or a minimalist one? Many libertarians argue that a minimalist government is better, one which takes less of a role in the economy and focuses on defence of the country, enforcing contracts, and preventing crime that actively harms others. I would argue that we should prefer a stronger one.

The reasoning behind why we should prefer a strong government as opposed to a weak one is obvious from the onset of our very childhoods. Just think back to school, when you were in the classroom, and had two kinds of teachers – one that could control the class and one that couldn’t. Which one was more effective at teaching the class? I would wager that the stronger, more disciplined teacher was – and it didn’t matter how much more the weaker teacher might know about the subject, the more disciplined one would always be able to impart more knowledge to the class as a whole.

In a similar way, libertarians, as much as they laud market efficiency, fail to acknowledge the biggest inefficiency that exists in every society – crime, and social disorder. And in believing that there should be a small a government as possible, they show a marked contempt for the real, actual causes of crime which lie in socio-economic conditions including inequality, lack of job opportunities, poor education and an absence of strong civic organisations backed by civil support.

That is why the economy, education, equal opportunities and community projects should all be considered law and order issues primarily – budgets should be based on its impact on crime, curriculum set to instil strong moral values. No human society is too far away from complete social disintegration, as New Orleans will quickly show you. A powerful military, and a powerful police force, are necessary preconditions for any free society, to prevent anarchistic chaos.

Soapbox Radio: “Farewell To Welfare?”

In Events, Home Affairs, Ideology on August 28, 2010 at 11:56 pm

To all who listen, here is our third podcast to date, tentatively titled “Farewell to Welfare?“, and was recorded on the 24th August 2010.

In this episode, Stephen Wan and David Weber are joined by guests James Langford and James Callum Johnson. An explosive Dragon’s Corner beginning with Langford’s idea of abolishing welfare full stop, before a discussion at books that the rest of us have been reading this week, which includes an interesting political interpretation of Lord of the Rings.

n.b. Apologies to all who clicked on the link and were directed to an episode we recorded a couple of weeks ago. I assure you that it now leads to the right episode.

Being Popular And Being Right. Politicians Can’t Be Both.

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs on August 25, 2010 at 11:35 am

By Stephen Wan

When you ask someone what they would rather their MP did, what was good for the country, or what would get them re-elected, they almost invariably go for the former. People have an impression of politicians as self-interested, vote-grabbing, populists out to climb the greasy pole, more interested in good press than good policy. However, bad sounding though that caricature is, do we really want politicians to be any different? And in fact, doesn’t democracy require exactly that kind of attitude to exist?

The only power we the people have over the government is election time, at least every 5 years, when every Parliamentary seat is up for grabs. This is our one chance to keep our MP if we like the job they’ve been doing, or kick them out if we don’t. Everyone has one vote exactly, making it as fair as possible (let’s ignore the electoral system for now). And this is the time when the parliamentary candidates compete and offer whatever they think will get them elected, whether they believe in it or not.

Now, for some reason people seem to hate the idea that politicians will say whatever they think people want to hear in order to get them elected again. People would rather have ‘principled’ politicians, who ‘believe’ in what they stand for. I argue otherwise – in actuality, our democracy would be a lot stronger if politicians stood only for what will get them elected again. In other words, we would have a better democracy if politicians were complete self-serving and self-interested, rational actors.

Why? Because representative democracy is effectively the establishment of a ‘political free market’, where everyone has equal purchasing power, which they use to ‘buy’ a politician who they believe will most improve their own life, or do what the voter thinks is best for the country. Whoever gets the most purchases gets elected as the MP, and they need to ensure they do exactly what they said they would or else they won’t get elected again, in much the same as how a manufacturer needs to make sure their products don’t break down otherwise consumers will not buy from them again.

If, on the other hand, we had politicians with so-called ‘principles’, and we voted for them, how do we know they’ll do what we want them to do? They could, for example, take us into an unwinnable war in a middle eastern country which we have no interest in, strategic or otherwise, apart from perhaps some natural resources we would like to exploit, leading to the deaths of hundreds of our soldiers. Hypothetically mind you – surely this could never happen in real life?

Introducing: Soapbox Radio

In Europe, Events, The Media on August 13, 2010 at 8:41 pm

David Weber & Stephen Wan

To the excitement, and probably embarrassment of not many at all, we’ve decided to start podcasting, not merely as a way of saving time from blogging. So with no further ado and certainly no pomp and circumstance we’re launching Soapbox Radio today, with the two trial podcasts we recorded in the last week or so.

  1. Pilot: “Little Red Blog”In this I am joined by Stephen Wan, co-editor of TDS, and Johan Lofving, a musical contact from Sweden. We cover the upcoming election in Sweden, whether the Coalition was right to propose anonymity for those accused of rape, Stephen’s proposal for a UBI on his little read blog, and our featured blog post*, Some Further Points on Benefits Reform by Hopi Sen.
  2. Episode 1: “Ban Smacking, not Smoking”Which, in the spirit of sheer diversity, features the same people as above. We kick off with the first edition of Dragon’s Corner, where one of us has sixty seconds to Make The World A Better Place, while other cynical dragons look on and breathe fire (or pour cold water, depending on which metaphor is the more appropriate). This week Johan gave us the eponymous proposition, which led to some debate, after which we tackled The State We’re In, and spent no small time talking about Eminem and the EU**.

If you’re interested in making as much a fool of yourself as we’ve done, email dingdongalistic (at) gmail (dot) com, or stephenwan91 (at) gmail (dot) com.

*Not to be confused with our naked publicity chase.

**Not together.

Referenda? Good.

In Constitutional Spotlight, Home Affairs on July 19, 2010 at 12:53 pm

By Stephen Wan

I’m looking forward to next year’s referendum on electoral reform (if and when it happens, granted the act passes with a parliamentary majority). I happen to think referenda, and direct democracy in general, is a good thing. Not always perhaps, but most of the time. I am dismayed at times by people who argue against referenda, since their arguments strike me as elitist, with an underlying assumption that people don’t know what’s good for them, or that they are blind sheep easily swayed by the dark forces of the media. I happen to believe people aren’t as unintelligent or naive as they’re willing as the A.R.E. (anti-referendum elite) make out. I will therefore be arguing for why a referenda in general, and particularly the referendum on AV, is a good thing.

Firstly, I’d like to point out the ever-decreasing influence of the media. In general, people no longer blindly accept a newspapers’ stance or view of things – at best, they get to set the agenda, and tell people ‘what’ to think about. An excellent blog piece by Stumbling and Mumbling highlights the discrephrency between who the media supported, and who the public eventually voted for. Whilst not conclusive (a truly definitive piece of evidence would need a survey of the % of readers of their voting intentions before and after a newspaper backs a party), it does indicate the likes of Murdoch may not be as influential as they would like.

Secondly, I think it is worth taking a rather liberal assumption in the rationality and open-mindedness of most people to debate. Not everyone is a bigot (eh Gordon?), and most people are willing to look at the other side of an argument before coming to a reasoned conclusion. Its our belief in humans as rational actors that influences our economic thought (people as utility-maximisers). Why not consider the same in political thought?

Thirdly, the passage down a route saying people don’t know what is good for them, and thereby have dictated to them how they should be ruled, is a scary route to take, reminding me of Plato’s Republic’s “guardians”, an elite upper class who are unchallengeable and rule by virtue of their superior position, both morally and intellectually. Whilst a meritocrat myself (in obvious cases such as medicine, law, policing etc.), I fail to see how one group of people have an obvious advantage over others in terms of what is ‘good’ or ‘right’ for the country. Any suggestion that it is better for Parliament themselves to dictate how the people are ruled, (as Danny Alexander apparently wanted during the Lib/Lab talks after the last election), follows this same train of logic, which reaches a worrying conclusion.

Fourthly, I’d point to the classic education and political participation advantages of referendums. What direct democracy allows people to do is to become engaged in politics, and have an opportunity to learn more about how our electoral system works (and better yet, a say in how it is done), leading to personal self-betterment and an engagement in politics that is needed now more than ever following the decrease of trust in Parliament and elected politicians in general (take a look at the witch hunt with Zac Goldsmith for example). Why anyone would want to keep politics a field reserved solely for the professional politicians is a mystery to me.

Of course, there is a role for representative democracy in general, to tackle the more mundane issues that require specific technical understanding (food safety regulations), or more complex issues that are too sensitive for the general public (security). I won’t claim to know the dividing line between the two, but I do feel that constitutional changes like electoral systems, devolution and (when/if it comes) the abolition of the monarchy do come within the purview of policies to be decided by general referenda. If one seriously takes the idea that the people are not to be trusted when it comes to deciding issues like the electoral system, one wonders how the electorate are to be trusted even with electing our politicians – are they also not subject to ‘media influence’ every general election as well?

I’d like my final point to be one on legitimacy – a change in the way this country is governed and how it elects its people can only have authority if the vast majority of the electorate decide. We need this referendum if we want to change the electoral system, (or to put on hold the idea of changing the electoral system for a generation or so), in a way that very few people can find lacking in sovereignty. Ultimate power lies in the general will of the people, and therefore only they, not the MPs, can choose which system they are ruled under.

Before I end, I’d like to take a quick dig at my all-time least favourite politician, Alex Salmond, who appears to be treating the electorate as idiots. This is, of course, on the issue of the date of the proposed referendum, the 5th of May, which falls in line with the Scottish, Northern Irish, and Welsh elections to their respective assemblies. According to Salmond:

“These elections are of profound importance to our citizens and I believe they have the right to make their electoral choices for the respective devolved chambers without the distraction of a parallel referendum campaign on the UK voting system”.

Unfortunately, Salmond seems to think voters are incapable of holding multiple thoughts in their heads at the same time. What exactly does Salmond mean by a distraction? That a change in the electoral system is an unwanted nuisance, that might mean Salmond gets less time on TV strutting his pompous self around thinking he’s the big man (I do seem to recall him trying something similar during the general election). Also, although I happen to believe that democracy is priceless and worth any cost, there are apparently some monetary advantages to having it on the same day (to the tune of £17million).

Anyway, that aside, overall I approve of the position of the government on the issue of the referendum on the Alternative Vote electoral system, which I think is the right thing to do, and that people who seek to deny the electorate a chance to vote on changing the voting system need some pretty serious arguments to back them up, ones I have yet to see. As for whether I will be voting for or against AV is another matter, one I’m going to have to think about for a bit longer. Nonetheless, I’m glad of the possibility that I’m going to have a say in it at all.

I For One Welcome Our Con-Lib Coalition Government

In Home Affairs on May 17, 2010 at 9:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

Ok, I’m going to go out and say it. I voted Labour in general election, and I’m not ashamed to say it; they have been a positive, progressive government for the past 13 years, with the minimum wage, devolution, investment in our public services, many pushes towards equal LGBT rights such as the Civil Partnership Act, the Human Rights Act, Freedom of Information Act, banning Fox Hunting, increasing international development aid, international agreement on dealing with the financial crisis at the G20, steps towards world action on climate change such as Kyoto and more. They’ve also done a lot of very bad things as well, such as the Iraq War, too many market-reforms in public services, erosion of civil liberties with ID cards and 42-day detention, the abolition of the 10p tax rate (which Labour introduced in the first place mind) and so on. I’m not completely misty-eyed when it comes to the New Labour project, but I respect it for achieving a lot in this country, and is under-recognised for its achievements, whilst remembering it had its faults.

But that is history now. We now have a new project – the ConLib project, a formation a year ago thought unimaginable. David Cameron is the Prime Minister, and Nick Clegg is the Deputy Prime Minister. George Osborne is the Chancellor, whilst Vince Cable as the Business Secretary. This is pretty much what I expected if a coalition was to come about, although I’m surprised the Lib Dems didn’t get Education. There’s a nagging feeling in the back of my mind that there’s a point to no Lib Dems holding any of the great offices of state; the Conservatives want to remind them who’s in charge.

I’ll be the first to say I did not want this coalition to go ahead. Firstly, I thought it just wouldn’t work – how on earth could the Lib Dems and the Cons reconcile on issues like Europe, immigration and constitutional reform? The answer – they’ve been pragmatic beyond belief. Secondly, I always think coalitions will lead to the worst of both worlds; policies that are the least bit controversial will be dropped and we get left with stuff that everyone agrees with but nobody likes. Thirdly, I didn’t want to see the Lib Dems reduced to a hand-maiden for the Conservative party, bowing to every whim Cameron has.

Now, with a firmer idea of what the Conservative and Liberal Democrat negotiation teams have come up with, I’ve warmed to the idea. On liberal conspiracy, there’s apparently the agreement between the Con and Libs on a coalition: http://liberalconspiracy.org/2010/05/12/exclusive-was-this-the-con-lib-agreement. Reading through and hearing what they’ve agreed on, I found myself nodding and going “Oh, that’s not too bad”. I’ll examine the sections bit by bit and give my thoughts on them.

The first section is aptly deficit reduction, the biggest key issue for the government. I’m beginning to accept that we need to cut the deficit sooner rather than later, and it is better done by lowering spending rather than raising taxes. There’s an emphasis on protecting the lowest paid workers though, which I think is a good step. I do worry about taking £6bn out of the economy, as Brown so often used to say; can we really take that without a double-dip recession? What irks me though is a reduction in CTFs and CTCs, but at least the terrible Lib Dem policy of abolishing CTFs has gone through the window; the Conservatives actually are more progressive than the Lib Dems here!

The second section on spending review has its ups and downs; I have no idea why they continue to think they can ring-fence the NHS and reduce government spending. Unfortunately, the Cons manoeuvred themselves into a corner there with their populist but dangerous stance on not reducing spending on the NHS in real terms. Pupil premiums are coming in though, which might be quite a good policy actually, if we get disadvantaged students a good chance in education. The Lib Dems have backtracked on Trident though, which is disappointing if not terribly surprising – and it was an empty gesture in the first place, because there’s really not going to be a cheaper alternative than the one we have.

Tax measures was a give and take one. Cons give up raising inheritance tax and accept raising personal allowance to £10000. Libs give up their mansion tax, and promise not to oppose recognition of marriage in the tax system; by the way, any proposal that the Cons put forward which the Lib Dems abstain from is almost guaranteed to go through, because if you factor the Lib Dems out of the sums, the Cons have more seats than all the other parties put together.

Banking reform goes towards the hands of Cable more or less, as he has to tackle the idea of a banking levy, huge bonuses, and reducing risk. Euro is ruled out as well for this Parliament, something I don’t think the Lib Dems were ever serious on joining; its more of a way to placate the right in the Conservative party. Immigration, and the Lib Dems give up opposing a cap on it; still, if the cap is high enough, it may make virtually no difference whatsoever. No doubt the points system is still coming into effect though.

Political reform is interesting, with fixed term parliaments barring a loss of a confidence vote by 55% of the MPs – basically, the Lib Dems can break up this coalition whenever they want. A referendum on AV, not exactly what the Lib Dems wanted, nor what the Cons wanted to give, but the least offensive alternative (what a great metaphor for AV as a voting system). Some more fluff on the ability to trigger a by-election with 10% of a constituency’s agreement – the average size is about 7000 voters, so we’re talking about 7000 signatures in one area. It might be quite good for an expenses scandal type, but I wonder how many times that’s going to come about?

Skipping the next few, the environment is my passion, and these proposals sound good on paper – stopping the Third Runway, tax per plane, a green investment bank, and this crazy idea of a national recharging network for hybrid and electric cars. So specific targets on reducing CO2 emissions though; subject to the CCC it seems.

Overall, again I think its been a pretty reasonable compromise, and kudos to the Lib Dems and Cons for coming to this kind of agreement. I’m quietly hoping David Cameron will be a good PM, being impressed by his speech into No10 praising Brown and the Labour government instead of condemning it. It remains to be seen whether most of these ideas will materialise, and whether Clegg can actually make anything of the Deputy Prime Ministerial position, which is possible the most vacuous one in the cabinet (can anyone remember what Prescott did apart from punch a voter?). Nonetheless, I’m swaying to the yellowy blue side of politics – now its time to deliever.

The General Election – Results speculation

In Home Affairs on May 5, 2010 at 6:37 pm

Election 2010

By Stephen Wan

This is, as they say, the most exciting general election for a generation. The outcome could, quite possibly, be anything, from a Conservative majority to a Labour minority. With the polls showing the Conservatives still not having enough support for a majority (based on uniform swing), and strong support for the Lib Dems at the expense of Labour (although Cleggomania seems to have died down), there is still a chance for a Hung Parliament for the first time since 1974.

I’ve been asked by David to blog about what outcome I would prefer, why, and what outcome I actually predict. These are plenty of interesting scenarios that I would love to say would be ideal, such as a Green government, but I’ll restrict myself to talking about scenarios that are actually in the realms of possibility.

In my ideal scenario, I think there will be as many small parties and independents in the House of Commons as possible. From Wales for example, I’d like to see Plaid Cymru win a couple more seats, to a total of 5, and the number of Independents, that is two, remaining stable. From Scotland, the SNP total to rise, and inevitability you’ll get a mix of Sinn Fein, DUP, Ulster Unionist and SDLP from Northern Ireland. In England, I’d want Green to win its first seat in Brighton, RESPECT to keep its seat, and (and I’ll probably be shouted down for this), even UKIP and the BNP to get seats in Parliament. I think the more parties there are, and the larger the variety of views, even if demented and wrong (at least it challenges the government and the political establishment to respond, particularly on immigration), the better Parliament will be. Also, any reduction in the overall power of the main two parties, which is hugely disproportionate to their number of votes, is a good thing.

As for who wins overall power, ideally for myself Labour would win as the largest party, but without an overall majority, but still enough seats to be able to rule with the support of the ‘Celtic bloc’, that being the SNP and Plaid Cymru. What it does in a sense is show the inadequacies of our current voting system, and so we might see some momentum for change to our electoral system. More importantly, whilst it might be an unstable coalition for a time, there can be a definite push by the Welsh and Scottish for more powers, whilst stemming the flow of Scottish nationalism once they realise they can create changes in the British government, more funding for the Welsh, and a much greater scrutiny of Labour’s plans. It would be a coalition of all the nations of the United Kingdom, and so perhaps a much stronger sense of everyone being in it together. The Lib Dems will hopefully win enough seats to be in a strong position to really gain from the next election. The Conservatives not so much, and thus the end of compassionate conservatism once and for all.

What I think will probably happen is a Conservative minority government with the backing of the Ulster Unionists, since the other groups are too left-wing and opposed to public spending cuts. We might see them rule on an issue by issue basis, putting forward a budget and daring the other parties to vote it down. If so, prepare for another general election 6 months from now, just like 1974. And then expect a Conservative majority, as the only political party with the funds to afford two general elections successively in such a short period of time.

On some level I’d quite like to see a Conservative majority government, if only for it to become the most unpopular government in history, and banished for another generation to the political wilderness. However, the fervent anti-Toryism that has existed for too long may dissipate if we get a government under Cameron that does indeed have some fiscal discipline, makes cuts in the right places and so on. I don’t think that’s likely though.

Just my two cents.

Foreign Affairs Debate – predictions

In Uncategorized on April 22, 2010 at 10:07 pm

By Stephen Wan

With a high rise in the polls for the Liberal Democrats, and a higher approval rating than Brown and Cameron put together, Nick Clegg has the most pressure, and the most to lose, in tonight’s foreign affairs debate shown on Sky News at 8pm (if you don’t have Sky, the Guardian is streaming the debate live on their website). But how much impact will this debate have in comparison to last week’s one? Relatively little I think – firstly, foreign affairs doesn’t register highly in the public’s top issues, with the economy, immigration, employment, education, health etc. (all but the first of which were covered last week). It therefore doesn’t matter so much if Clegg does lose this one – foreign affairs are unlikely to dominate this election anyway. Secondly, the number of people watching this debate will almost definitely be lower than the 9.8 peak viewer level of the first one; there aren’t as many people who have Sky News, myself included, and some people I’ve talked to are turned off watching it because of how boring the last one was. Perhaps the first election debate had a novelty factor, but the second one does not. Still, nothing should be taken for granted, and given a fairly high level of public interest in these leaders debates now, there’s still a lot to play for. What will be discussed? And who, if anyone, will come out top? My guesses on what will come up tonight is Afghanistan, the role for Britain in international affairs, the future Defence Review, Trident, Europe and the EU, our ‘special relationship’ with America and possibly dealing with rising superpowers such as China and our relationship with them. Iraq, though important a few years ago, has mostly been eclipsed in the media. I wouldn’t be surprised to see something on international climate change agreement as well. Brown, as the Prime Minister for the past couple of years, is an international figure – he’s been said to be more popular overseas than here in his own country. He was responsible for the applauded for the G20 summit, continues to have strong ties with America, strongly pushes for a continued presence in Afghanistan, wants a strong trading relationship with China, wants to renew Trident, and is neither anti-Europe (Lisbon treaty) or particularly pro-Europe (no Euro). Out of all three of them, Brown is easily the most experienced in international affairs; he knows the game, and he’s known by the leaders of the countries very well. If he pushes the influence he’s had over the global financial stimulus, and his strong reputation abroad, he could well win it. His weakness will be on Iraq (although again this isn’t a prevailing issue), his handling and funding of Afghanistan (helicopters is a word I’m expecting to hear quite a lot), and denying Britain the referendum on the Lisbon Treaty, which will probably be the most damaging. Cameron, as leader of the Opposition, is never going to match up to the credentials of Brown, although I can’t think of a less experienced Conservative leader hoping to become Prime Minister since WW2. He likes lots of alliances, so keeping with the US, but not too much political intergration, so no to EU influence. Wants to keep Trident, although apparently to protect against rogue states like China, so no strong relationship with them. Promised a referendum on the EU if they got into power, but had to backtrack from that after the Lisbon Treaty was ratified. Angry about the lack of funding to our troops in Afghanistan, wants to introduce a government pledge to look after our troops – a military covenent. Took the Conservatives out of the pro-European grouping in the European Parliament, into a anti-federalist group with arguable far-right nationalist parties. Cameron I think is weakest here, with both a lack of experience and seemingly a lack of tact (calling China a nuclear threat for example). If he wants to win, he’ll need to appeal strongly to the eurosceptic part of the country, constantly attacking Brown and Clegg for handing, or wanting to hand, powers over to Brussels. He can also push against Brown on funding for our troops, and our patriotic duty to look after them. Clegg is again the wildcard here, because nobody’s quite sure what he stands for. He seems less keen on the US, and wants stronger ties with the EU. International agreement on Climate Change is a big priority, and is more anti-Afghanistan than the other two. Voted against Iraq with the Lib Dems in 2003, so maybe a couple of brownie points there. Wants to include Trident in the Defence Review, so he doesn’t want to renew Trident, preferring some other alternative system. No idea what he thinks the UK’s role in the future is though – he’s never really had to talk about it. Definitely weak on being recognised on the international stage – at least Obama stopped by Cameron for a quick chat. Being pro-EU more steadfastly than the others may repel some people, but may bring others around to him. Any attack by Cameron on Clegg wanting to join the euro will definitely deflect off – Clegg can simply deny that, because they don’t. Weakness may well be on Trident, since the majority of polls shows we support having a nuclear deterrent; however, if he can get the argument across that the cost is too great, and we can have a cheaper alternative, that may do it. Overall, I think Brown to win, and Clegg a close second, with Cameron last. However, don’t think I’m willing to put money on it. Really, this debate is a slight misnomer, because a government’s stance in foreign affairs is primarily pragmatic, particularly for Britain, than it is ideological. In a sense then, a lot of what is said in these debates is meaningless, because it is the Foreign & Commonwealth Office that pushes the agenda on the international scene. Still, should be a good watch.

My Five Most Important Issues

In Uncategorized on April 21, 2010 at 10:20 pm

By Stephen Wan

When it comes round to election time, political parties have to have a bewildering number of stances on a bewildering number of issues, not only because they are trying to appeal to a huge and diverse electorate with many different interests, but also because they are fighting to become the next government, where they will be facing these problems en masse. It is an obvious, if unfortunate, fact that people simply do not care about every single policy a political party comes out with or supports – pet passports is one that doesn’t strike me as the most critical of issues. The reasons a voter supports a party will inevitably fall down to just a few key issues; ask anyone, including yourself, why you support a party, and I bet only a few policies will be talked about.

So, instead of pretending I am an omnipotent part of the intelligentsia who knows and cares about every issue, I will present my five most important issues that I want a political party do deal with. I’m still an undecided voter, with a choice in Feltham & Heston between Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat, English Democrats, Green, UKIP and the BNP, and the issues I’m about to talk about, in ascending order of importance, will determine where my vote will go.

5 – Education

As someone with a bit of a vested interest considering I’m going to be in Further Education for the next three years, one of my top five issues is education policy, and how much a political party is going to support schools as well as ensure the system helps the least well off. Education is the best way to achieve social mobility, as well as creating a more equal society by extending opportunities at the very start of life. There is also a very intrinsic value in learning and education, that should be available to all, because it creates a better, more fulfilling life. Further Education is also the best way to keep Britain as a cutting edge, economic competitor internationally, where it would be surprising to see that eventually our biggest export being graduates with skills and talents.

Ideally, I would like to see education set as one of the highest spending priorities on the government agenda, with funding rising or at the very least, constant in real terms. However, there will be spending cuts inevitably, and these will have to affect educational institutions. I want a political party to ensure that any cuts that happen minimises the effects on front-line teaching.

I used to be particularly anti-private education, but over time in consideration, I don’t see an alternative, and overall taking students out of public education does increase the amount remaining for the other students.

4 – Cutting the Deficit

There is a huge gap increasing between the income and expenditure of the government, and if there was a lowering of the credit rating for the UK government, it would become a major problem for us now and in the future. I don’t think massively taxing the rich is a good way to go about it; it does need to be met with a combination of a reduction in public spending and increased taxation.

One area which could be cut, and here is where I completely disagree with the Conservatives, is on the National Health Service, where too much money is being poured in – almost £120billion a year now. Whilst health is of obvious vital importance, when I see the central government education budget is just a third of that, at £30billion, I think we’ve gone too far (although admittedly local funds does push education spending up to £84billion).

3 – Constitutional Reform

The way this country is run is currently unacceptable. It’s not fair that 16 year olds are treated in adults in some senses, like paying for adult tickets, but not in others. Reducing the voting age to 16 is a policy I would support. I also want to see an elected House of Lords, and Alternative Vote in the House of Commons.

2 – The Environment & Global Warming

The environment is simply too important for us not to take action. Climate Change is going to be one of the biggest issues for us, and something needs to be done. I would vote for a political party that makes protecting our earth and using it sustainably and responsibly, and takes global warming seriously.

I would like to see a political party embrace a diversity of different energy sources, implementing more cap and trade carbon emission schemes, banning the most polluting machines/cars/industries.

1 – Social Justice

Social justice is the idea that in general good things should happen to good people, and bad things should happen to bad people, on a social scale – applying what is right through society and law. In this sense, there needs to be a redistribution of wealth, to ensure an equality of opportunity where people succeed or fail based on themselves only. The government should seek to help the least well off, the discriminated against, minority groups.

I went through that a little quickly, but there we go – what my biggest five issues are.

So, what about you?