Westminster is a national embarrassment. We must embrace change.

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For most of us, Westminster politics is a confrontational and phony piece of theatre. PMQs is nothing more than a rabble of ministers who roll about, unable to answer public questions and unwilling to participate in meaningful debate. Led by an unhelpful and jeering Prime Minister, it does nothing to improve the already dangerous status of the British political system as ineffective, secluded and increasingly irrelevant to most in society. Regardless of your political opinions, these actions are harmful. So what’s the remedy? How about a proper voting system, votes at sixteen, an elected House of Lords, a written constitution and proper devolution to local authorities? Empowering the people and local government of Mid Worcestershire would be a start. Without serious reform, a new generation will reject the political process and we will be left with a serious vacuum of opinion and ideas. If Britain wants a more efficient system of rule, then Westminster must embrace sweeping changes to its current state of affairs. Everyone would benefit but hey, maybe that’s too sensible an idea for the Westminster system to either adopt or understand. 

Britain: grow up and accept more refugees

It’s simple – if Britain is willing to bomb a country, it should be the first nation state to accept those fleeing this escalation of conflict. Under no circumstances is this a one way deal. Why is it that parliament is quick to vote for air-strikes but sluggish to raise refugee numbers?

In 2016 – sixty eight years after the Declaration of Human Rights and sixty six years after Britain accepted the European Convention on Human Rights, the European political community are struggling undertake (what is simply) their moral obligation.

Save innocent human life.

The European ‘project’  – which I support – has shamefully resorted to tear gassing children, incarcerating thousands and refusing to assist those drowning in the freezing night waters of the Mediterranean. News headlines fill our little worlds with images of packed trains, flooded campsites and starving infants. Combined, the European Union has the largest economy in the world. Is this really the way we should be treating those most in need? Of course it’s not.

Thankfully, Germany has taken the lead on the issue. Perhaps due to historical and political responsibilities, the north European state accepted over one million refugees in 2015. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the British government. At a European summit in September, David Cameron opted out of taking ‘his fair share’, instead offering a measly 20,000 over a period of four years. A pathetic response to one of humanity’s largest disasters of a generation. On an international level, Britain is more ‘hot air’ than substance – a reputation developed after years of weak, ineffective and heartless foreign policy.

So how many refugees – and they are refugees – should Britain take in? 20,000? 100,000? In past years, the Home Office have asserted the idea that one refugee family can live within two hundred British households. Using population figures of sixty four million, this widely used formula would suggest Britain has the capacity to accept 320,000. Although not the one million Germany has achieved, it would be a damn good start.

Britain was once at the forefront of writing the world’s key humanitarian conventions and yet fails to coordinate an appropriate response to the major problems facing the world today. The government have consciously denied Syrians their most basic rights to life, liberty and security. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “to deny any person their human rights is to challenge their very humanity.”

Together, we should challenge the government and say no – not in our name.

I ask the Prime Minister to reflect on this next time he considers lowering the tone of debate any further.

Why Thomas Piketty matters to you

How are you affected by his 700-page tome of an economics book?

Almost three years after its initial publication, Thomas Piketty’s bestseller ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ continues to astound economists and revolutionize thought on capitalism, wealth distribution and income inequality.

The six-hundred and ninety six page tome was first published in Piketty’s native French language. An English translation was pushed forward and the book quickly shot up the Amazon best sellers list, briefly resting at its top. Outlets were left fighting over copies as stock ran dry at both Harvard University Press and Amazon. But what is it about Piketty’s discovery that has taken the world of economics by storm?

and why on earth should you care?

For decades, if not centuries, left-wing writers and academics have argued that ultimately, capitalism is flawed. Governments and ‘free market’ thinkers however, have tossed the issue aside, suggesting that there is nowhere near enough data to support the idea. And what has Piketty given them? Reams and reams of it. ‘Capital in the Twenty-First Century’ is the equivalent of Darwin’s ‘Origin of the Species’. It challenges the Status Quo and the elite don’t like it.

For those who don’t use this sturdy book as their bedtime reading, here’s a summary of some of Piketty’s discoveries.

Piketty’s main argument is that deep-set wealth inequality (and particularly inherited wealth) is not a by-product of capitalism. Instead, the ever widening chasm between the ‘top 1%’ and ‘the 99%’ is capitalism working as it should be – capitalism working to design.

Piketty expresses this as the rate of return on income against economic growth (or: r > g). Although he accepts this simple equation is not the answer to all forms of inequality both past and present, it is a significant factor in producing 1,286 billionaires in 2015 whilst 80% of humanity live on less than $10 a day.

Even worse, Piketty believes the equation r > g amplifies over time. To explain this, he takes r = 5 and g = 1 as a basic example. For a wealthy family to keep their investments level with the general economy, they need only invest 20% of their income (or return). This is the minimum sum required to keep them afloat. The remaining 80% however, can be spent on the consumption of goods. This makes it easier to build and sustain large fortunes over the generations. This is the cause of catastrophic disparity in wealth.

WHY DOES THIS MATTER?

Piketty acknowledges that larger rates of returns on income over economic growth is not always bad for society. But if this trend sets in over time, a gradual accumulation of wealth can act as a magnet that draws in power, excessive land-ownership and irresponsible investments.

The economy is no longer based on merit. Instead, capital gains are made by those with good birth rather than good ethics.

You may be asking – why not have economic growth outstrip returns on income and reverse the equation? This is certainly an interesting point and to a degree, nationalising key public industries has worked in achieving this.

But if ‘g’ outgrows ‘r’, then the value of serious wealth would collapse. Seeing as there are little natural forces to counter r > g, technological advances, government intervention and rapid population growth are the only realistic factors that could alter the normal pattern of events. Piketty therefore, concludes by advising governments to impose a +80% tax on ‘wealth’ across the globe. (note this is not a tax on income, an issue Thomas Piketty keeps separate throughout the piece)

In his work, Piketty points out that the practice of wealth accumulation limits social mobility and is defenceless against external factors of macroeconomics (e.g. war, revolution, financial depression and ecological disasters). Small-scale microeconomics also come into play. Take into consideration the number of children a wealthy family produce. This can decrease the amount of inherited wealth each child receives, adding the lottery of family to the list of barriers preventing billions from reaching the top of the economic ladder.

Although he may not have yet been received as ‘the next Marx’, Piketty has succeeded in bringing income inequality into the political mainstream – something Marx could never do today.

Marx’s work was about production and the mechanisms of it. Piketty however, examines what comes out of the other end of an economic cycle. Ten years of research has produced some interesting findings on the real-term effects of income inequality and capital in recent years. In this sense, his work is more useful in understanding the nature of capitalism in the modern world.

Regardless, ‘Capital’ has provided us with a platform to discuss the future of a capitalist system, struggling in a world of deep recession, political unrest, war, famine and environmental chaos.

At the very least, we should thank Thomas Piketty for that.

Why 2016 will not be a Tory Wonderland

Why was 2015 the ‘Goldilocks Election’? Why can’t Osborne succeed as Conservative leader? Why will the Tories be forced to return to the dirty politics of the 1980s?

As 2015 draws to an end, the Prime Minister is sure to look back on the past twelve months with pride. Since January, the Tory leader has managed win a spectacular Conservative majority, secure a European referendum, control his backbenchers, effectively disband UKIP and outlast his two main election rivals. Additional internal conflict within the opposition benches has caused an apparent rise in the Tory party’s approval ratings – sometimes hitting the low 40s – unheard of during an era of recession.

But how is this possible? How has Cameron managed to end the year as the clear victor?
With the Scottish Conservatives having performed relatively badly in 2010, the Prime Minister had little to lose from the SNP’s sweep of the north. Nicola Sturgeon formed a nationalist ‘coup’ with the aim of thumping Cameron’s government at its weakest point – its lack of humanity. Instead, the ‘Scottish lion roared’ [1] (to quote former SNP leader Alex Salmond) and directed its fire towards Cameron’s only alternative – Labour leader Ed Miliband.

Fear with the economy, the increasing influence of the media and Tory myths also had parts to play in providing Cameron with a working majority of twelve MPs.

2016 is likely to be Cameron’s last full year at Number 10. From then, he is guaranteed a smooth exit from office – passing on his role to a loyal colleague such as Home Secretary Theresa May or (more likely) to school friend George Osborne. Gone are the bitter days of Ted Heath, Michael Heseltine and Margaret Thatcher.

Or so the Tories would like to think.

Unlike most of Cameron’s premiership, it may transpire that 2016 is the year when dirty Tory politics returns – the kind of image the Prime Minister has spent his decade at the top trying to hide.
Below are a string of issues which may stump leading Tories in the coming months:

Europe
   In the face of an apparently divided opposition, the Conservatives have kept together – desperate not to fall into the lengthy ideological debates which have engulfed the Labour Party for over seven months.
The Tory leader is keen to unite his cabinet around one central issue – the topic which has plagued the party for decades – Europe.
Even though Cameron is yet to declare which way he will vote, it’s pretty clear he doesn’t want the ‘out’ campaign to win. No matter how many times he strides into European summits attempting to appear the reformer, challenger and alpha male, we all know he does not want to leave office as the ‘isolationist’ Prime Minister that ordered Britain to ‘retreat’ from the world. He’s too worried about his legacy to do something as careless as that.

Although every general election is different, Conservatives are likely to examine the role played by key ministers in the run up to the vote of 2015. Party members will want to know the candidates that can successfully carry an image of modern ‘compassionate Conservatism’ and the ones who cannot.

I believe the Tory party won a majority for three reasons:

  • The public’s perception of Ed Miliband as a potential Prime Minister
  • The SNP
  • The existing First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) electoral system.

Like most elections, victory was formed from the collapse of the alternatives. For the Conservatives, the conditions were just right. It was a Goldilocks election.
A Prime Minister and Chancellor who remain loyal and trusting friends is a rarity in British politics – especially within Conservative politics. Most see this as the crux that will fulfil Osborne’s true ministerial ambitions.
Infact, most pundits predict Cameron’s iron chancellor and Etonian schoolmate will become Tory leader and Prime Minister. The Fixed Term Parliament Act of 2011 means that (if elected), Osborne will have over two years to mould his type of Conservatism before standing for election in 2020.
So far, Osborne (like Cameron) was able to shrug off his family background and education without significant damage to his reputation. But a more recent history is likely to stick with the frontrunner. Osborne is the face of 21st century austerity and is well known for missing his financial targets. But unlike Cameron, Osborne would not enter the leadership race as a youthful outsider. Having accepted the title of First Secretary of State, he is effectively the Prime Minister’s de facto deputy. But even this ministerial appointment may be too little too late for the political operator.
Beyond the recession, after the frontbenchers retire and after a new generation of Tories join the fray, George Osborne will be remembered as the Conservative chancellor that privatised, cut and shrank industry and like no other before him. He will live on as the patron saint of Conservatism – but for all the wrong reasons.

Ignore the polls, they tell you nothing
It’s worth noting that a year before his election as Tory leader in 2001, Iain Duncan Smith placed 6th in Ladbrokes’ leadership polls. Michael Howard was 7th in 2002 and Cameron 3rd in 2005. [2]

2016 is likely to be a significant year for the Conservatives. A quick transfer of power seems unlikely for a party that has recently become Britain’s slickest electoral machine. Alliances will be formed and secret deals made – that’s for sure. What remains unknown is what kind of Conservatism will enter the race for Number 10 in 2020.

[1] http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-north-east-orkney-shetland-32641223
[2] http://news.ladbrokes.com/politics/tory-leadership-contests-a-betting-history.html

The Making of Britain (1st): Tea and Trade

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(Note to the reader: This article was written in 2013/4)

Introduction – QUICK! BUY SOME BIN BAGS…

Forget the civil war or the restoration. Forget the ‘Abdication Crisis’ and the ‘Year of the three kings’. Infact, it may be quicker just to stand up at once and walk over to your bookshelf, boldly grab each and every title which mentions ‘monarchy’, ‘Britain’ or ‘history’ and hastily throw them in the direction of the nearest bin. Now this may seem like a rather desperate and drastic thing to do but it is essential if you want to truly understand how we got to where we are today.

Inside the very dusty volumes of long forgotten Parliamentary Hansard and other seemingly unimportant documents, lies the truth and it is the job of thousands of historians, archaeologists and beardy researchers to rifle through these cobweb filled pages to find the important detail and the accounts that really mean something to you and me.

But do not weep in despair just yet. Do not feel inclined to burn your many history essays which you have previously slaved over at school from the ages of ten to eighteen. They will still have their own significance because not all history has been mis-reported. A few lone occasions have been spared and it is vital that we maintain this golden information and protect it from a vast deluge of miscalculations and inconclusive accounts as they sweep by every day, attempting to engulf the few scraps of paper which hold some of the only reliable clues to our own past.

This essay is part of a series which aims to establish what really created this country and why various authors, monks and even the public choose to leave many details out of publisher’s reach.

 

Chapter I – “MILK AND SUGAR?”

                   THE DEVELOPMENT OF CEYLON TEA

(How Britain Began Trading)

 England is known for its love of tea. A drink which it appears is impossible to overestimate, seems to actually run the entire nation as its fuel. Clearly, this simple and positively influential beverage pars with America’s lust for oil and has made various international co-operations billions of dollars over the past few years.

Indeed, the true story behind this drink has been relatively by-passed by history as a mere consequence or accident. But THIS IS NOT THE CASE.

Flamboyant explorers such as Drake and Raleigh brought many commodities like sugar, tea, tobacco and silk into the continent for the first time and due to their high social standing, trade routes were finally opened outside the walls of Europe and English society and culture rapidly began to change. Members of the aristocracy bought these items in great bulk as a means to show their class, influence and social standing. This changed the taste of Britain and the result was astonishing.

The second half of Elizabeth’s forty five year reign marked the beginning of the development of the English Navy. The Queen and her courtiers believed that in order to become the single dominating European figure, England would have to form its own military strength at sea. Elizabeth’s father, the great King Henry VIII was the first English monarch to lead an English maritime force of any considerable size. After his death however, successors to his crown had little money from the crown purse to fund his groundbreaking naval development.

After Mary’s death and ‘failure’ to produce issue, Spain and England were no longer tied together in matrimony and were at once, fierce enemies. Religion, finance, trade and sheer politics tore the two nations apart from what was once a rather suspicious relationship. Naval expansion seemed inevitable and with it, the opportunity of empire and business.

 The East India Company

Through the might of the East India Company, Britain managed to extend its tea production over the entire east and most notably, to Sri Lanka.

This was all due to the work of James Taylor, a Scottish traveller, who noticed that the intense humidity, rich soil and cool temperatures were perfect for the mass growth and production of ‘Ceylon Tea’ and with the help of a Scottish millionaire, Thomas Lipton, Taylor cleared nineteen acres [827,640 square foot] of woodland and proceeded to plant the first tea fields in the area.

In 1872, Taylor assisted in the construction of the island’s first packaging facility and within three years, the first cargos of ‘Ceylon Tea’ were sold at the London Tea Auction.

When reading this, one seems to gain an extremely glowing view of British trade working at its best with the backing of a very ‘legitimate’ empire. Indeed, over one million Sri Lankan’s were employed in this farming, production and packaging process that immediately boosted economic performance and competition towards the east. Unfortunately, this is not the whole story.

In 1796 the might of the British Empire was thrust against the innocent people of what was then the island of Lanka. Under the banner of England and George III, the newly formed Dutch Republic, which had maintained its control over the island’s people since the 15th century, transferred Lanka’s sovereignty to the British in fear of enemy French forces using the island to patrol the Indian Ocean. Ceylon was yet another nation that had fallen victim to the European game of kingdom building.

“Sign up! Sign up! For the Sovereignty of Ceylon”

By the time the British flag flew above the tropics, the Ceylonese must have been used to invasion. The Dutch forces had originally been asked by the native king to crush any remaining generations of Portuguese that had managed to survive since the south Europeans landed on Sri Lankan shores in 1505.

At first, British rule was deeply welcomed by the island’s people. It was seen as a new beginning, a chance for change and a time for peace. But this was not to be. By 1818, a vast network is islanders joined together and began to rebel against the British. This was the start of a well rooted revolt. A group of twenty thousand men were assembled and began at once to make preparations for war.

The soldiers that were positioned on Lanka began to fly the British banner once again. They too were prepared for a struggle and quickly began a systematic process of burning villages and slaughtering cattle. The redcoats were also prepared to slaughter any resisting islander that stood between an ultimate British dictatorship and domination.

We must recognise therefore, that something as innocent as the investments of Taylor and Lipton grew from Britain’s domination of Ceylonese life. The British aristocracy were fuelling an unstoppable drive for power, land, trade and profit and with time, this simple nationalistic mission turned into something much uglier. Something of an addiction. An addiction at the expense of entire continents and their peoples.

Dear Prime Minister: a letter from a sixteen year old

labourlogo.jpg   A MESSAGE TO THE PRIME MINISTER ON EDUCATION, HOUSING, THE ECONOMY, EMPLOYMENT & DEMOCRACY:

Letter to the PM:
After your spectacular 2015 general election victory, you declared that your party was the ‘party of working people’. Here is my own personal experience as a young person living under your government. I thought it may be useful to you in understanding the needs of young citizens today:

As a sixteen year old, almost half of my lifetime has been spent living in a time of ever deepening financial recession. As I approach the GCSE exam period, I (like millions my age across the country), am trying to study and prepare for this next stage in my school career. I am trying to do this whilst your education department frantically changes the school syllabus, Ofsted regulations, the levels of national and local funding, free schools, the academy status, limiting the right of strikes and choosing to prioritise certain subjects above others.

And this is just within secondary education.

Not only has your administration trebled my prospective tuition fees, the Conservatives have failed to place a cap on this newer price whilst simultaneously, removing thousands of pounds in maintenance allowances. In a bid to squeeze as much out of universities as possible, the Conservatives have proudly stated that ‘more people are going to university than ever before’. Mr. Cameron, I am not a fool – this is not a good thing. University staff are being stretched to work longer hours for frozen pay packages because more people are being packed into classes and lectures. This does not therefore; increase the experience or quality of education for both staff and students as your government would like me to believe.

For those that want to work after leaving school, many are still left unprotected by their lack of employment rights. For example, the ‘National Minimum Wage’ that your government, Chancellor and party have been trumpeting about so loudly does not cover anybody below the age of twenty five. So to people like me – this ‘protection’ is useless. Secondly, you have left the issue of zero hours contracts unattended to, citing no reason to change the rules because ‘many people like the flexible working hours’. Tell me, what is there to like about remaining locked into a work scheme that demands unreasonable hours at short notice with low pay and no assurance that the job will remain yours the following day?

I will now turn to the issue of ‘right to buy’ – an issue your party spoke widely about in the run up to the general election in May this year. This new scheme rolled out by your government appeared at first to have been created out of good intention. Your government is willing to provide huge discounts for young couples and first time buyers to purchase their own home and access the housing ladder. Great! This seems almost revolutionary. That is, until we consider the logistics of the plan. Selling off council homes will only increase the lack of property being built in this country over demand. It is clear that the state should be attempting to build enough homes to bridge a housing gap which has already hit 250,000. This could be achieved if the government invested in rebuilding the council homes it is planning to sell off under the scheme. That way, people could own their own homes without draining the entire supply of council housing for the next generation of children, young adults and those earning the least amount of money.

But pushing the issues of education, housing, employment and work aside, what has your government done for me politically? I often hear patronising messages by ministers and Whitehall officials calling for young people to become ‘engaged’ in politics. In a feeble attempt to prove this point, political education is now mandatory in citizenship and PSE lessons. This is a good start and I welcome this move – but how is this going to increase voter turnout at an election? What else is the government doing to increase turnout?

As a young person, I am telling all I know to register to vote by 1st December in order NOT to be knocked off the electoral register as constituency boundaries are being redrawn, ready for 2020. If you cared about ‘engaging’ millions to ‘become’ political, then you would make a wider call for people to sign up rather than attempting to sneak the proposal through parliament – unnoticed to your own political advantage.

I am a member of a political party and have been for some years. I am also registered to vote. I understand politics and follow the events of Westminster and Brussels on a daily basis. I am capable of making informed decisions and yet you are the only person preventing me from having my own ballot in your European referendum by the end of 2017. Please, this is an opportunity for you to prove to millions of hardworking, law abiding young citizens who are unimpressed with your attitude and record in government that you are serious about your role as our Prime Minister. You serve every Briton of every age – what right does your ‘opinion’ which you are ‘yet to be convinced’ have to override my desire to become involved in politics and my own ambitions for British society?

Thank you for taking the time to read this letter,

Yours Sincerely

TOM PARKIN

(Aged 16)