The true cost of a Brexit victory

27371753103_01f3044be8_o

Flickr/Ben Chapman

Just over a week ago Britain chose to leave the European Union and the shockwaves are still being felt. Since the vote, the (so-called) experts’ warnings of economic disaster have begun the transition from ‘project fear’, as it was so nonchalantly dismissed by the Leave campaign, to ‘project fact’. The value of the pound has fallen dramatically, billions have been wiped off the FTSE 100 and economic growth forecasts have been revised down- with some economists predicting that a recession is imminent.

The economic chaos is rivalled only by what is happening inside Westminster. The Prime Minister has resigned and has plunged the Conservative party into a power struggle worthy of Game of Thrones. Meanwhile, there is no opposition to fill the void as Labour MPs attempt a botched version of the Red Wedding in a battle for the soul of the party. All this at a time when strong leadership is vital to reassure not only the markets but the people of the country who face an uncertain future.

Amidst all of the chaos, it would be easy to forget what a significant victory this was for the Leave campaign. They defeated the combined strength of the UK’s major political parties, the Governor of the Bank of England, most economists, all of Britain’s allies… the list goes on. But at what cost have Leave secured this victory?

Immigration, Immigration, Immigration

Do not be fooled by the suggestion that the Leave campaign convinced 17 million people on the nuanced issue of sovereignty. While Leave’s slogan was ‘take back control’, it was combined with inflammatory rhetoric about immigration which meant its meaning transformed into something altogether more sinister. Immigration won the referendum for the Brexiters.

Remain simply could not stand against the fear created by the fanciful threat of millions of Turks coming to take the jobs of those who already feel left behind in a globalised world. Nor could it stand against Nigel Farage’s Nazi-esque propaganda which disingenuously used the plight of millions of refugees in order to secure just a few more votes, to inject just a bit more fear. The Leave campaign exploited their one trump card with surgical precision.

Yes, there are legitimate concerns regarding immigration, but it would be delusional to think that this campaign has helped moved that debate forward in any way. The opposite is in fact true. Brexit politicians have exploited the concerns and vulnerability felt by so many in a bid to secure victory.

I won’t bore you by telling you that the vast majority of Leave voters are decent people, that much should be obvious, but the tone of the Leave campaign has emboldened the indecent. Since the result was announced, there has been a fivefold increase in the number of racist hate crimes reported. Rhetoric does not exist in a vacuum and it does have consequences.

These consequences will be long felt as the fabrications of the Leave politicians become apparent. Even before the body of the Remain campaign was cold, Leavers began to row back on their promises as harsh economic reality permeated their bluster. Ian Duncan Smith described the claims made by the campaign as just a ‘series of possibilities’, while Tory MEP David Hannan admitted that free movement of people will not necessarily end post Brexit.

One can only imagine the furious backlash that any deal involving free movement would inspire from those who equated a vote for Brexit with a vote to end immigration. Many of these people are already angry at an establishment which they view as out of touch and this would inflame these tensions even more. Even if controls on free movement are secured, the economic consequences of such a deal will largely be felt by the very same people. Once they realise they have been sold a lie, their anger will not dissipate and it could manifest itself in the form of riots, hate crime and support for the far right.

The Leave campaign has unleashed forces beyond its control and they do not have a plan to tame them. Their campaign told the British public that they could enjoy all the benefits of the European Union without free movement if they just took a leap of faith; well now Britain is in freefall and there is no soft landing in sight. When the UK hits the bottom, it is likely that irreparable damage will have been inflicted on both its economy and society.

 

Advertisements

Demystifying the Brexit fear campaigns

© European Union 2013 – European Parliament – Pietro Naj-Oleari:

The campaign for ‘IN’ or ‘OUT’ has been a long drawn out process, one which has captivated the nation for all the wrong reasons. Seemingly, the new way to win a political campaign is to scare everybody with any given excuse. As a soon to be Politics graduate, I find this a sad and sorry state of affairs.

In this two part series I shall seek to demonstrate what these political campaigns have failed to do, provide fair debate and factual statements.

Admittedly, I am a supporter of the European Union and I will be voting to remain. However, I will not seek to scare you, I simply intend upon feeding you the truths that I believe to hold firm through my own research. As such, I implore you to read on, what I say next may well change your minds, for the right reasons.

In this first part I will cover three main topics, the environment, the NHS, and the economy and sovereignty.

The climate

Even if you dislike some of the EU ‘red tape’ the media perpetually talks about, it is hard to argue with arguments surrounding the environment.

Climate change and the environment more generally will without a shadow of a doubt be the challenge of our generation. It shall not be – as some might have you believe – terrorism, Corbyn becoming prime minister or about any of us finding a job.

If you decide to vote to stay in the EU even if it’s just for the one reason, I would encourage you to make it a climate reason.

The EU climate and energy package was adopted in 2009 to implement the 20-20-20 targets endorsed by EU leaders in 2007 – by 2020 there should be a 20% reduction of Green House Gas emissions compared with 1990, a 20% share of renewables in EU energy consumption, and energy improvement by 20%.

It has also implemented a single EU-wide cap on emission allowances from 2013 onwards, with a linear annual reduction until 2020 and beyond.

To deal with climate change we need transnational organisations. Climate change is not confined to borders, it is worldwide and to fight it, prevent it and save ourselves we must be part of bodies such as the European Union.

The NHS

The next topic for scrutiny is the much talked about NHS issue, perhaps the best and most incredible British institution. Much is being made about staying in the EU costing our NHS because of ‘uncontrolled immigration’ and the money spent on the EU which could be better spent ‘elsewhere’.

For starters, the money we get from being part of the EU to fund research and development is huge. Furthermore, the EU promotes joint action for cancer research and control where member states work together. There is also a large body of evidence suggesting that the NHS is also critically reliant upon the U.K. economy, which as we know would suffer no end if we ‘Brexited’.
Much of the furore surrounding the NHS regards the issue about TTIP, which many people are worried about. The NHS is currently being negotiated out of a deal for this transatlantic trade agreement and would therefore not affect the workings of the NHS.

Equally, the main advocates for leaving the EU, Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have all spoken about their desire to privatise the NHS, so when they claim they want to give it more funding or whatever else they may say, you may want to challenge that.

EU migration also makes up around 10% of NHS doctors and 4% of nurses.

The economy and sovereignty 

Both campaigns have also fed the general public questionable figures. Ipsos Mori have carried out a non biased research analysis into the EU, the following were some of the central findings.

48% of the UK’s total international investment comes from the EU and 44% of our total exports are sold to EU countries – china only accounts for 1% of investment and 5% of exports respectively.

23% of those intending to vote leave don’t think that MEP’s are elected. Much of the general public as well as the media also peddle the sovereignty argument regarding Britain not having control over its own laws and regulation.

Instead of persistently looking at the negative portrayal of the EU, why not take a positive stance and view what regulations and laws the EU has brought into place which have benefited us all; trade agreements to reduce tariffs and agree increased trade between EU countries, a cap on the amount of hours an employee can make an employer work for, price caps on mobile roaming charges, ban on tobacco advertising, a minimum of 4 weeks holiday per year and a cap on banker’s bonuses.


Ultimately, in a globalised world of interconnectedness, one which we ourselves pushed and furthered, it makes no sense whatsoever to now become isolationist. Yes, certain aspects of the EU need reform but the wider, transnational issues at hand need to be dealt with collectively. You go and look back at history and tell me how successful and peaceful the Europe and the world more widely has been a) when it has been split up into individual bodies and b) when it has been held together by multi-nation bodies. The proof is pretty clear.

The true cost of cutting mental health services

5770820029_ae1c50b78a_o

Flickr/BANK£N$T€IN

Recent reports have shown yet another failure within our system of care for those who are mentally ill, with more than 400 adults currently being forced to receive treatment more than 30 miles from their homes. Receiving treatment close to home is something many of us take for granted when we have a physical illness, however this comfort isn’t always afforded to those who are mentally ill.

Immediate support from family suddenly becomes problematic, visits home are a wish too far and friends are further away than ever. I know from personal experience how vital it is to be close to home in order for an effective recovery.

The promises of Parity of esteem for mental health services in the Health and Social Care Act of 2012 have yet to be realised. Despite mental health problems accounting for 28% of the burden of disease in England, only 13% of spending goes towards mental health services. While 400 people is a small minority within the system, indeed it is only 4.9% of current inpatients, it is 4.9% too many. For every patient who has to travel more than 30 miles in order to receive inpatient treatment the system has failed them, their friends and their family.

Being close to home at any vulnerable time in your life is important, none more so than when you’re ill and need the support of family or even friends. Being so ill you have to go to hospital is quite possibly one of the most vulnerable and dangerous times of your life, especially when you are suffering from mental health problems.  It is a strange reality when the most vulnerable are flung into a haze of confusion, where they may not necessarily know where they are in the country, and are placed in a daunting new environment. Being denied easy and readily available contact with your family and friends is a basic failure of a system cracking at its seams.

Not only can being moved from your local area disorientate you initially, it can also be discomforting during a patients stay in hospital. Depending on the patient you can go out, whether that is with an escort or on your own, if you are staying close to home then you can visit family, go to the local shops and keep in touch with your community. It is a vital link which shouldn’t be severed unless absolutely necessary.

However it isn’t simply a matter of comfort, contact with people close to the patient is also vital. Family like mine often provide valuable information to the clinicians which patients may not wish or may not be able to communicate.

Not only this but parents or guardians can be involved in the decision to discharge patients and often advocate on their behalf about certain things while in hospital. Some people like my parents are able to travel 30 miles or more, indeed mine made triple digit round trips for a month; however many cannot and this needs to be presumed.

My parents were an essential part of my voluntary stay in hospital; they talked to clinicians relentlessly, brought me home comforts and advocated on my behalf. I am confident without them things would have been immeasurably worse and I don’t want any inpatient to be without essential tools to help them get better.

This short term thinking has been a key feature of this dangerous Conservative government. They’ve cut over 2,000 mental health beds since 2011, and now according to the King’s Fund bed occupation is routinely exceeding recommended levels which is leading to patients being moved around the country.

While they’ve been cutting beds there has also been a growing issue within community care. According to the King’s fund only 14% of people in a crisis felt they received the right response that helped to resolve said crisis – this is a statistic that obviously has consequences on the availability of hospital beds.

Indeed, rather than resolving the problems that many face in a non-clinical environment, cuts to services have ensured that too many become inpatients; which of course takes up more resources than if they’d funded community care properly. A perfect storm of bed cutting and cuts to community mental health services has led to these unacceptable conditions for mental health patients within the NHS.

Taking people outside of their own environment can be damaging and disorientating for inpatients, and makes access for friends and family inevitably more difficult – leading to a more difficult recovery. It is a policy born out of necessity, however it is misguided and harmful for those involved whether that is people who know the patient or the patient themselves – it should be avoided at all costs.

Why Are English Politicians so Scared of The SNP?

‘An endless drizzle of complaint’. That’s how an English historian on the BBC referred to Scotland in this general election. You might think that 1.6 million Scots voting to leave the UK would be enough but apparently Peter Hennessy thinks we can do better.

It’s a sad fact that nearly every piece of news about Scotland in this election has been negative. As a Scottish person (I voted no) living in England it has been hilarious to watch. The Conservatives have been running up and down England screaming at every TV camera they can find “The SNP are coming, isn’t it awful?!”. Meanwhile Labour has been insisting that if they have to share their toys with the SNP they’d rather not play.

The response in Scotland has been utter confusion. The parties that seemed to be so insistent on Scotland staying part of the ‘family of nations’, as David Cameron loves to call it, now seem desperate to isolate and demonise the party that the Scottish people are choosing. There should be no doubt, this is being taken personally. Let’s take a fun trip back in time to see why Scotland seems hell-bent on kicking Labour out.

Labour has had almost complete control over Scotland since Margaret Thatcher did a few things that made some people unhappy. You might expect that a region that steadily supplied Labour with at least 40% of its seats at every election since 1987 would get something in return. But no. Just like the North of England, Scotland was ignored by Labour because the vote was stable and the trusty Scots didn’t need a bribe to keep them in line. Then in 1997 Tony Blair decided it might be an idea to offer something in return for good behaviour so he announced there would be a referendum for the creation of a Scottish Parliament. Blair thought that this would guarantee Scottish votes for Labour forever. He was wrong.

A Scottish Parliament gave the SNP an opportunity to push for Scotland without the messiness of having positions on UK issues. Combining that message with the charismatic and expanding leadership of Alex Salmond it worked. The Labour vote in Scotland was suffocated almost as if Salmond was sitting on it. People started to realise that Labour had never done anything for them. Scotland was, and still is, poorer than England and poverty is rising not falling. People noticed that everyday Scotland was obediently shifting millions of barrels of oil down South and never seeing it again.

So in 2011 Scotland gave the SNP what they wanted. A majority in Parliament despite a voting system which had been designed to stop that from ever happening (because that’s not sinister at all). 3 years of campaigning later – a very tedious three years I might add – a referendum was held on Scottish independence. Much to the surprise of Scottish people the UK parties, who were shocked into action by a YouGov poll which gave the ‘Yes’ vote the lead, scrambled North to defend the union. David Cameron appeared on Scottish news almost in tears begging Scotland not to leave. He couldn’t have looked more like a cheating husband begging the wife to stay.

Maybe to get Dave to stop crying or maybe for real reasons, Scotland voted no. People were swayed by the argument that voting no didn’t mean the status quo, it meant something different and better for Scotland. Well it’s 8 months later and basically nothing has changed apart from Alex Salmond morphing into a thinner, more popular woman with bad hair. So Scotland feels betrayed and if you’ve ever seen Braveheart you know we’re all about betrayal. So just like we kicked out the Conservatives, which you were all fine with, we’re now kicking out Labour and everyone has lost their minds.

Yes the SNP are popular. No they are not a one issue party –they’re the government of Scotland. Yes we do deserve some influence for once. No it is not unfair.

Like them or not the SNP are coming and they have a right to be heard.

By Ali Gardiner

[Image Credit: Walt Jabsco]

The Deeply Disturbing George Galloway

In a fiery episode of Question Time last week, a shouting match developed between George Galloway, MP for Bradford West, and some Jewish members of the audience accusing him of stoking anti-Semitism through his criticism of Israel. The discussion ended with Galloway making an impassioned plea for society to rally against both anti-Semitism and Islamophobia. I believe this plea was genuine. I do not believe George Galloway is an anti-Semite and criticism of Israel in no way amounts to anti-Semitism. There’s a real danger, however, of allowing Galloway to paint himself as something other than the unsavoury figure he is. He is a man who deserves no place in mainstream British politics.

Support for Palestine must not extend to either apologism for Hamas, or vilification of all Israelis. Accordingly, then, it must not extend to supporting the demagogic figure of George Galloway. For Galloway is guilty of both, and a lot more besides.

Last year, Galloway told a meeting of activists for the Respect Party that he leads that he had ‘declared Bradford an Israel-free zone’. Of course, calling for a boycott on Israeli goods and services is an entirely legitimate political statement. Announcing that ‘we don’t even want any Israeli tourists to come to Bradford’, as Galloway did, certainly is not. Accept this statement at face value (although I can’t help wonder whether Galloway extends this non-invitation to the 1.3 million Israeli Muslims) and it is, at best, xenophobic. Certainly, it is exactly the kind of generalisation that Galloway claimed to abhor on Question Time.

But Galloway’s political inconsistency on this matter should be of no surprise to anyone who has followed his career. The casual Question Time viewer might wonder why, for instance, that a man so committed to opposing anti-Semitism should have begun working for the propaganda arm of the Iranian government at a time when its President maintained a public position of Holocaust denial. Whatever, a better example can be found in his telling reaction to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. When interviewed under caution by police following his comments regarding Israelis in Bradford, Galloway – rightly – complained of ‘an absolute and despicable attempt to curb my freedom of speech’. When Islamist gunmen massacred some French satirists for drawing cartoons they didn’t like, Galloway declared that ‘there are limits’ to freedom of speech. What these ‘limits’ are is anyone’s guess; presumably, they refer to anything Galloway doesn’t like whilst affording him the freedom to say anything at all. At any rate, any politician whose response to such an atrocity is to condemn the victims smacks of moral bankruptcy to me, and I hope to anybody else appalled by the events in Paris too.

The list goes on. In 2005, Galloway described Bashar al-Assad as a ‘breath of fresh air’ after a visit to Damascus. More notoriously, in 1994 he appeared on television telling Saddam Hussein that he ‘saluted your courage, your strength and your indefatigability’ only six years after Saddam had conducted a genocidal campaign in Kurdistan in which as many as 182,000 Kurds were murdered with poison gas. (For clarity, Galloway has since argued that he was addressing the Iraqi people, rather than Saddam. I’ll leave it to the viewer to decide.) He described the collapse of the Soviet Union as ‘the biggest catastrophe of my life’. He drew criticism from anti-rape charity Rape Crisis after dismissing the alleged sex crimes of Julian Assange as ‘bad sexual etiquette’. These are examples of shocking reductionism; the most appalling crimes are to be overlooked, provided that the perpetrators stick two fingers up to America.

This is why the movements seeking freedom for Palestine need rid of Galloway. To whatever extent his virulent criticism of Israel causes anti-Semitism, if at all, he is not to be blamed. Criticism of Israel is entirely legitimate; indeed, it is both worthy and necessary. Giving a platform to a man with Galloway’s track record, however, is extremely unwise. Apart from anything else, a man who says he doesn’t believe the Iranian regime is a dictatorship doesn’t know what freedom is. There are many other figures in public life who manage to give Israeli policy in Palestine the criticism it deserves without mollycoddling dictators or advising that all Israeli citizens stay away from large UK cities. Though he may not be an anti-Semite, George Galloway is a deeply disturbing figure who does not deserve the legitimacy afforded him by well-meaning activists. He belongs firmly on the fringes of British politics.

By Harry Illidge


[image credit: KNLphotos2010]

Rail Fares Rise, The Public Loses Faith: Where Does the Blame Lie?

The Saturday following Christmas was a calamitous day for rail passengers travelling from King’s Cross and Paddington stations, this came just a week before rail fares had their annual rise. This led Patrick McLoughlin, the Secretary of State for Transport, to face some important questions in the House of Commons on Monday (5th January). The disruption at King’s Cross was caused by over running engineering works, which is now an ever regular cause of rail passengers’ despair, McLoughin called this “totally unacceptable” and apologised for the chaos.

This solitary example does just make you wonder how rail fare rises are justified.

When looking at the breakdown of the price paid for a ticket, only 3% is profit for the companies. The opinion that rail companies are taking higher profits at the cost of the consumer is dumbfounded. Rail companies are actually investing, as 26% of your train fare goes towards improving the rail network and 22% to necessary maintenance. However, this investment isn’t being seen, as we are still way behind where other countries are at with their rail services.

Of course the Labour Shadow Secretary of State for Transport, Michael Dugher, used the public frustration with rail fare rises as a cheap political attack on the Conservatives. Dugher stated that passengers have seen their ‘fares rocket’ under the Conservative government. Dugher’s claims may be true when put in the 5 year context of the coalition government but this is just a continuation of the trend which began under Labour in 2004. In 2004 Blair’s Labour introduced new government policy which allowed the rise of regulated rail fares by the Retail price Index measurement of inflation plus 1%. This has meant that since 2004 rail fares have continually risen above inflation leading to a public loss of faith with rail companies. The aim was to pass on the cost of investing in the railways to the passenger and that has worked to some extent. Subsequently, we have reached a stage where passengers are fed up with funding investment. This is because many passengers are now travelling on services which are overly filled and are frequently delayed.

With the general election looming parties have begun to outline their main focusses to try and woo voters, in a country that has never been as out of touch with politicians. Rail fares, amongst other things, will come into the political battle ground this spring as the Greens have already thrown their hat into the ring with their plans of an average 10% cut to rail fares. This idea will appease voters but how this would quite work in practice is yet to be seen. Re-nationalisation is a thought that many would agree with, a way to take back the railways into public hands in a hope to reduce rail fares. A re-nationalised railway network would make the government accountable for any failings that would take place, and for passengers this could be a welcomed change.

To lay blame with anyone for the failings of Britain’s rail services, in my opinion, would be unjust. Both rail companies and decades of previous governments can be held accountable, Britain’s railways have been majorly under invested in for years and the only way to right this wrong is to invest. But to invest means that more money is needed which brings us back to needing fare rises to fund the investment. A vicious circle arises where somebody has to cough up to invest but who will it be; the government, rail companies or the passengers?

By Christopher Middlehurst


 

[Image Credit: kaysgeog]

Why the West Should Support the Kurds

A few weeks ago I was in Frankfurt. Among the thousands of shoppers packing the Zeil, so was a large Kurdish protest, one of several that has taken place across Germany in the past few weeks.

I sympathise with their aims. The Kurdish people have been on the receiving end of persecution across their Middle-Eastern homelands for most of the past century. Overlooked by the carving up of the Middle East by the British, French and Turkish governments at the end of the First World War, the Kurds, numbering thirty million individuals, have been without a state, making them perhaps the largest stateless ethnic group in the world. Kurds represent a majority in significant areas of Turkey, Syria, Iraq and Iran and have faced long, bloody and mostly unsuccessful attempts to gain autonomy in each of these nations. These attempts were often met with total hostility; in Turkey for instance, the Kurdish language was outlawed for several decades. Indeed, the Turkish government tried to deny the very existence of Kurdish people in Turkey, referring to them only as ‘Mountain Turks’. Kurds in Iraq, meanwhile were subjected to a genocidal campaign of indiscriminate gas attacks by Saddam Hussein’s government in the late 1980s.

Progress had been made in recent years. The tentative establishment of a secular democracy in Iraqi Kurdistan has been one of the few outcomes of the 2003 Iraq War commonly regarded as a success. Kurdish forces in Syria had also made territorial gains against those of Bashar-al-Assad, and meanwhile in Turkey negotiations between the government and rebel Kurdish PKK group were undergoing, offering hopes of a peaceful settlement to a decades-old conflict that has seen atrocities committed by both sides. The situation for the Kurds looked to be as optimistic as it had looked for a long time.

Now, however, the Kurds find themselves embroiled in an existential struggle – a struggle they did not ask for, but a struggle which they have shown every indication of being willing to fight. The rise of Islamic State has led to conflict for Kurds – and a refugee crisis – in both Iraq and Syria. In Summer, tens of thousands of Yazidis – an ethnically Kurdish religious minority group – were driven up Mount Sinjar and besieged by IS militants. These individuals, mostly civilian, were rescued by a combination of US air strikes and Kurdish forces on the ground. Over the past few weeks in Syria a battle has raged over the Kurdish-held town of Kobane. In part, the Kurds are aided by their secularism; supposedly, IS will not stand to face Kurdish female fighters (who comprise about half of Kobane’s defenders) fearing that death at the hands of a woman will mean that they are excluded from paradise. But, brave as the Kurds have proven to be, they need the help of we in the West – and they deserve to get it.

Partly, this is because of their unique position as a suppressed minority in so many states in the region. Iran and Turkey, for instance, two key regional powers, have little desire to see a strengthened and empowered Kurdistan in Iraq and Syria. Indeed, this has been amply demonstrated by Turkey’s inaction thus far in the crisis, going as far as firing tear gas at Kurdish refugees fleeing Kobane but not entering the fight against IS to help the defence of the town. Such an exhibition of narrow, self-interested statehood shows the folly of trusting regional powers to deal with the problems posed by IS; the most likely outcome of leaving the region to resolve the problem itself is not regional powers stepping in. Rather, it is the wholesale destruction of the Kurdish people and of Kurdistan. In other words, the Kurds need help and the only place from which that is likely to come is Western powers.

Such support will have to be military – already US airstrikes have helped weaken IS in Kobane – logistical, and humanitarian. But it can also be moral. Perhaps as many as 150,000 people marched through London in August in support of, and solidarity with, Palestinians, and the campaign has enjoyed some success, with MPs voting to recognise a Palestinian state in October. Similar public pressure could lead to Western countries, already diplomatic and now military allies of Iraqi and Syrian Kurds, getting serious about Kurdish rights – and getting tough with their ally, Turkey, about violations of those rights. Meanwhile, the Kurds are proving to be a key ally in the fight against Islamic State – and they deserve all of the help that we can give them.

By Harry Illidge


[Image Credit: jan Sefti]