The New Levellers

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Let down, battered and bruised. That seems to be the general feeling amongst swathes of the younger British population when you question the current political climate. One built on fallacies, point scoring and a lack of cooperation. More generally, many people seem to feel alienated and excluded by British politics.

To a large degree, these feelings have been exacerbated, catalysed and felt more deeply in the run up to, and result of, the EU referendum. For many this was a protest vote, many they didn’t vote because they felt a disconnect of mistruths and a lack of belief in the politicians.

Whether you were an “innie” or an “outie” this campain demonstrated the deeper lying issues that run through British politics, particularly for the younger generation – a lack of care, a lack of voice and a lack of representation.

The New Levellers seeks to put an end to all this and offer a voice. A voice of hope, of reason and most importantly of cooperation.

At The New Levellers we believe in solutions, not problems. We want to see an engaged youth which will lead the next generation of this country. The two founders of this project, Nick Treloar and Sam Edgar are recent graduates in politics and international relations from Lancaster university and both 21 years old.

We don’t claim to know everything about politics and have the magic cure, far from it. Neither do we claim to be the next leaders of the country. What we want and we believe in is a fresh start and a renewed voice of passion, strength and togetherness, particularly for the younger generation.

Aims and Projects

This project aims to incentivise and encourage participation. We want as many people as possible to engage with us, write to us or for us, to contact us with their ideas and solutions and together we can come together and begin to change the current landscape.

We also want to harness the potential that is already there. It is no secret that there are thousands of politically active people online, who post and share their thoughts regularly. What we need to do is translate this into articles and action.

In the long run, with enough support we hope to influence government policy and put our voice back on the map. As such, we want to engage will all parties, groups, institutions, no matter the beliefs.

The first stage in our process is to ask as many of you as possible to fill out our questionnaire so that we can begin to build a consensus on feeling. The next step will to be to put the findings into action, developing research and building a voice for the issues that we collectively see as under represented and often neglected.

We hope to see as many faces as possible and are excited for the next generation to come through.

Get involved

Website

Questionnaire

Facebook

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The Remembrancer: How the ‘world’s oldest institutional lobbyist’ lurks in the shadows of Westminster

Research by: Abi Simons, Phillip Baker, Sam Fletcher, Jonathan Parker, Josh Kneale

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Flickr/Javier Díaz Barrera

Until recently, I, like most people, was not aware that the position of the Remembrancer even existed in the British Political system. You can imagine my shock when I found out that this role is perhaps one of the most aggressively direct forms of lobbying that the City of London has to offer.

Paul Double aka “The Remembrancer” has stood up for the interests of bankers in the City of London rather than the country as a whole, including recently playing a pivotal role in the UK-China Nuclear deal in October.

This is in fact what the Remembrancer was created to do, “to protect the interests of the city of London” – the 1.5 square mile patch of land that is the financial heartland of the country. As Nicholas Shaxson, author of ‘An Investigation into the City of London’, describes the Remembrancer is the “world’s oldest institutional lobbyist.”

Double has been The Remembrancer since 2003 and is one of the Key Officers of the City of London Corporation, a body which is elected by residents and businesses alike. Businesses get a vote due to the fact that the non-residential vote is still being used in the City, which was abolished everywhere else in 1969.

The Remembrancers resources

The Remembrancer has an annual budget of approx £5.3million with an additional £500,000 for staff wages – including a team of lawyers. This gives him the resources to effectively scrutinise pieces of legislation to see if it adheres to the interests of the City, and in turn, the banks.

As if this wasn’t enough, there is a special seat in the House of Commons in the “Under Gallery” for him, as well as a seat in the House of Lords – making him one of the only people able to sit in both Houses. This allows the Remembrancer to watch debates that could affect the City in one way or another and to express his opposition to pieces of legislation should the situation permit.

Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, the Remembrancer is able to meet directly with legislators and key people in Government, such as organising state visits for the Queen.

Professor Jeffrey Henderson, of the University of Bristol, writing in reference to the recent UK- China Nuclear deal said the Remembrancer “seems recently to have been at work ensuring that Britain’s infrastructure is made accessible to Chinese state-owned companies”. The deal would be significant financial boost for the City of London due to a plan to link the UK and Chinese Stock markets unveiled by George Osborne in September.

Opposition to the role

The Remembrancers interference in British politics has not gone unnoticed. In 2013 Green Party MP Caroline Lucas wrote to the Speaker of the House of Commons John Bercow asking for the Remembrancer to be removed from the House of Commons, as well as getting his privilege of viewing legislation in the drafting process to be revoked.

Leader of the Green Party Natalie Bennett was quoted saying “The fact that the City Remembrancer is the only non-MP allowed on the floor of the House of Commons is an historical anachronism”, referring to how the role dates back to 1571.

Removing the positon of “The Remembrancer” was even a part of the Labour Party’s manifesto until 1997, this has since been removed.

Can the role be justified?

It is almost unbelievable how in the British Political system there are so many checks on the power of the Government (such as Prime Ministers Questions), yet there are none on a person that has as much power over legislation as a cabinet minister.

Additionally, the fact that this person (who arguably has a prolific impact on nation-wide pieces of legislation) is not elected on a nation wide level, can be considered a significant blow to our democracy.

Perhaps if the Remembrancer was regularly questioned by select committees, or even if he decides to do the occasional media interview (considering the fact he has never agreed to one) then maybe the fact that this person is in our parliament could be taken with a pinch of salt.

 This article is in collaboration with The Richardson Institute.

How the government has closed its doors to young people

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Flickr/James Blunt

The average age of a British MP elected in the 2015 General Election was 50, which hasn’t changed from the average age in 2010 – showing no progress in that Westminster demographic  in the last five years. Twenty year old Mhairi Black, MP for Paisley and Renfrewshire South in Scotland, was elected in 2015 making her the youngest ever elected MP since 1667.

Yet, young people are still disproportionately underrepresented within the halls of Parliament, could the government themselves be to blame for this?

Over the last 30 years the average age of MPs has remained relatively stable around the average age of 50, and it’s clear there is a need for more youth engagement and involvement in Westminster. One way the government has tried to increase youth involvement is through volunteering. Volunteering has become, for many young people, the starting point for a career in politics and currently seems to be the only starting point.

Volunteering in Westminster usually entails interning in an MPs office, which for many includes uninspiring general office work; folding letters into envelopes, data entry and all of which is usually unpaid. Does this really provide young people with the relevant skills to gain a paid career in politics?

Volunteering is meant to be beneficial to the participant and the people you are working for, to provide you with the well needed experience to get a paid job in future and gain insider knowledge. Yet, from my own personal experience, I have found volunteering in UK politics to only be beneficial for the offices, who give the volunteers the jobs they don’t want to do themselves.

Experiencing it first-hand

When I initially applied to volunteer with my local MP I wanted to gain some experience in politics before graduating. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to do a week’s placement in a parliamentary office in Westminster.

It cost me a small fortune in travel, accommodation and living expenses for the week, and unfortunately the realities of the experience didn’t counteract those costs. I spent most of my time putting letters into envelopes, phoning up various people and putting petitions into the computer. The only highlight, and moment which felt like I was immersed in Westminster, was sitting in on PMQs.

The government seems to do very little to help recruit young people into politics and the only way in is through unpaid and unengaging volunteering – which doesn’t even give you the relevant experience to get a paid role in the sector. Most parliamentary internships seem to revolve around campaigning, which also don’t provide the experience or expertise which would help you land a paid job in the future.

When arranging my work experience in London I had no idea where to start as the information completely varied from office to office. Most MPs websites do not have a page relating to volunteering roles, what’s on offer or who to contact.

So I decided to email the offices directly via their constituent query emails. My local MPs office, who I volunteered for, arranged a week for me straight away after accepting my application. Though they gave no indication of the type of work I would be doing.

How history does it better

When arranging volunteering in the history sector I had a completely different experience. As I have a history and politics degree I decided to investigate working in both industries and I applied for a specific role as a tour guide for a heritage site. I was invited for an interview by the sites’ Volunteer Development Officer, whose role was to recruit volunteers and be their first point of call with any issues.

The Officer was in place to create a dialogue between volunteers and heritage workers, on what was working for the volunteers and what wasn’t. It’s safe to say I enjoyed my whole summer working there, even taking on two different volunteering roles.

Volunteering at a heritage site offered all types of work, such as customer service, behind the scenes and conducting research. Training sessions were also regularly put on for volunteers, to help them gain relevant experience and knowledge of the industry.

They offered coffee mornings and one-on-one advice sessions with people that worked in the industry. And there was also an active effort to ensure volunteers enjoyed what they were doing and wanted to stay. I enjoyed the experience so much I now work part time in the same place I did my volunteering a year ago.

The government should make an active effort to recruit more people into politics. Offering volunteering that would be relevant for young people, guiding them on what exactly is needed to get into the sector.

There should be a volunteering policy put in place across all MP officers, to make volunteering more engaging and make it easier to find available roles. As well as offering a minimum wage for volunteers, ensuring people from all background could have the opportunity to gain experience.

Training and help should be set up for young people who wish to apply for paid roles after or during their time volunteering, such as help with applications, offering references and interview techniques. Unpaid volunteering roles shouldn’t be offered by MPs that are unwilling to offer references, help volunteers with getting a paid role or those who have no intention offering you a paid role in the future.

The lack of young people in most areas of politics shows that this is a significant problem which is not being tackled. Westminster should take a leaf out of the National Heritage sites’ volunteering process, and the Houses of Parliament may start to look less like an over 50’s club and more representative of Britain.

Student Experience: Working in Westminster

Work experience is one of the those important things employers look for when your applying for a job, but many students have no idea where to even start when looking for opportunities. One of the main advantages of work experience is you get to witness first-hand what the company is like, how its run, what people they look for and how to apply for graduate jobs. There are also great opportunities to build contacts in that specific area for when you do finish university and are looking for a career.

In my first year I decided I needed to get some more relevant experience to my degree, not just working in various pubs. I knew that with history and politics as with many other degrees it’s hard to find relevant experience and in the beginning I had no idea where to start. I looked on MP’s websites and noticed they did not offer official internships. However I took my own initiative and contacted my local MP’s directly to find out if they had any opportunities. Some emailed back to say all they had was volunteering and handing out leaflets in the local area during election times. The conservative office was the only office that was conducting work experience over the whole summer but I applied too late and all the spaces were taken.

When my second year came I began feeling depressed at the prospect of another summer coming up of working in a menial part time job I hated, but then a letter from the Houses of Parliament came through the post. Sajid Javid my local MP, whom I had emailed the year before about work experience, had become the Cultural Secretary and invited me to work in his office that summer after keeping my name on file from the previous year. The work experience was unpaid, which I was concerned about at first, but taking up the position was one of the best experiences I have ever had.

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When I arrived at Portcullis House for my internship there was a number of other interns there for other MPs. Sajid Javid’s office had been running internships since early June having a different intern every week. They had arranged for me to tour of the Houses of Parliament and sit in the gallery to view Prime Minister’s questions, although unfortunately David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband had all gone to Scotland. William Hague took David Cameron’s place which I was informed was quite an occasion and some considered Hague to be an excellent speaker. I got to view topics in the Commons concerning the Middle East, such as air strikes in Iraq and Syria.

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I spent the rest of my time doing general office work and was allowed to attend any committee meetings I wished throughout the week. I attended a committee on the modern slavery bill and the committee questioning Rona Fairhead to be the new chairman for the BBC trust.

Doing an internship right in the centre of London was extremely exciting. I got a chance to speak to Sajid Javid in his office in the Houses of Parliament and to speak to his research assistants on how they got their jobs. They sent me a letter after my time with them thanking me for my work and invited me to help out with their election campaign next summer.

It was great to experience of what a career would be like in Parliament and working for a MP. It was definitely unmatched by anything else I had done before and I loved being able to have the chance to see what it was like to work in London. I regretted the fact I hadn’t done anything like that sooner in my first year, but at that time I simply didn’t know where to look and when I did I was too late in applying. 1911635_10153254081616165_4351589899366365547_n

Applying for work experience in Parliament is much simpler than you think. Try to find out who organises the work experience positions from their website, get in contact and ask if they have any positions available. I found working in Westminster an invaluable experience and I highly recommend you to utilise your power as a constituent and ask your local MP for the same opportunity I had.

By Connie Basnett


[Image credit: August Brill]

Why Symbolism Matters For Palestine

Dan Morrison looks at the vote coming up on Monday to recognise Palestine as a State and what it will mean for the Palestinian people.

Another bloody Israeli war in Gaza has come and gone, propped up by disturbing euphemisms and hypocrisies, with the question of Palestinian statehood refusing to go away. In fact, it is right under our nose. Monday’s vote in Parliament about whether to recognise Palestine as an independent state is evidently not binding, however it is important.

As Sunny Hundal noted for LabourList ‘even if the vote next week is largely symbolic,’ there is ‘an opportunity to send a signal to the world and take a step in ending this injustice’. Football pundits frequently talk about the importance of a team ‘sending a signal’ to the opposition, though really it’s just bollocks, another meaningless cliché to roll out. But this signal is significant, partly because it recognises Palestinians basic right to statehood, and also as it tells Israel as frankly and  firmly as possible that they can no longer continue flouting international law and ghettoizing the millions of people in the West Bank and Gaza. It also provides an opportunity for us.

Sweden became the first major European country, and EU country, to announce that they would recognise an independent Palestinian state, but quickly backed down with a series of ambiguous statements; a result of an Israeli rebuke. They needn’t have backed down. Depending on the result of the vote a bloc of pro-peace European countries can open up, lead by the UK and Sweden, which could act as a negotiator between the Israelis and Palestinians- more effective than an American government heavily influenced by the Israeli lobby.

Germany and France, countries with notable Arab populations, often wary of criticising Israel, may be more forthcoming in their criticism with the support of two major European nations. The EU is important, it is a large bloc of countries that has the means to exert the necessary pressure on Israel, whose quiet and inaction over the Jewish state’s actions has been deafening at times. Fear of the ‘other’ has categorised much of life in this troubled part of the Middle East, and the fear of the other is rising in the EU. The chance for a humanitarian unity for all parties is too great to pass up.

But is there any land left for an independent state? Have the borders not been eroded beyond repair? Possibly. Israel has aggressively pursued its policy of Jewish settlements and colonies in the West Bank, which are illegal under international law. In doing so, the land left for a Palestinian state along the pre-1967 lines has continued to shrink. As journalist Robert Fisk noted last month, in Jerusalem Israel continues ‘to cut Palestinians off from both the capital they are supposed to share with Israelis and from Bethlehem.’ This should not stop a positive vote, nor damn the two state solution to history. These settlements are illegal and, if you follow the definitions applied to situations in Rwanda and Bosnia by the UN, amount to a level of ethnic cleansing of the land. The time and land left for a Palestinian state is clearly shrinking, but it is still possible and worth voting for; Ariel Sharon removed settlers from Gaza for less humanitarian reasons.

The Palestinian leadership has struggled for coherence at times. Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian President, has struggled to reign in the less moderate elements of the administration and has looked weak, but he and his party offer the Palestinians the best deal. The actions of Hamas and Islamic Jihad, two Islamist movements influential within Gaza, are no friends of the Palestinian people; however deplorable and disproportionate Israeli actions in Gaza were, they could not have been justified without these two groups firing on Israeli civilians. Do not forget, Hamas publically executed militants accused of ‘collaborating’ with Israel as well.  A yes vote would completely delegitimise these groups and give strength to the PA, who now governs Gaza as a result of a unity deal with the increasingly weak Hamas.

In her book The War That Ended Peace, Margaret MacMillan asks not just what started the First World War, but also what caused the long preceding years of peace to end. With war ravaging Syria, Iraq and Ukraine, and renewed conflict in Lebanon, Yemen, Central African Republic and Kashmir, the correlations between that time and this are strong. Our leaders must show that they have learnt from the mistakes made a century ago, and that we will not again, as former Prime Minister David Lloyd George said, ‘slither over the brink into the cauldron of war without any trace of apprehension.’

To invoke Nelson Mandela, peace and freedom will never be complete without the Palestinians, and a yes vote on Monday would be one for the Palestinians and for peace. The symbolism of this today cannot be too strong.

By Dan Morrison


[Image Credit: Takver]
Latrobe University students for Palestine marching down Swanston Street
Protest against Israel’s Gaza Blockade and attack on humanitarian flotilla – Melbourne 5 June 2010.

 

The Crisis in Iraq: Is there a ‘Clear’ British strategy?

Liam Stott looks into Britain’s indecisive response to the recent IS threat.

The significant territorial gains achieved by the Islamic State militant group (IS) in recent weeks has resulted in a colossal and tragic humanitarian crisis in Iraq, with the UN estimating that as many as 1.2 million civilians have been internally displaced. There have been reports of horrifying atrocities committed by IS against minority groups including Christians and Yazidis, forcing tens of thousands of refugees towards either Irbil or Baghdad.

The escalating situation has forced the US to respond, both with humanitarian aid and air strikes, while the British involvement has only recently been extended beyond relief efforts into intelligence gathering for US missions and Kurdish forces. There has been a notable shift in Britain’s military role as a result of Islamic State’s advances, and any unforeseen developments have the potential to lead to ‘mission creep’, and thus alter the British government’s loosely defined strategy.

According to the Prime Minister David Cameron, the British government would ‘use all the assets that we have’, including ‘aid and our military prowess’ to defeat IS, although the PM was adamant that there would be ‘no boots on the ground’. The Prime Minister’s statement is obviously one designed to reassure public opinion, especially when the US led invasion of Iraq in 2003 is still poignant in the minds of the electorate.

It still remains unclear as to how far the government is willing to utilise Britain’s ‘military prowess’, especially when unforeseen events have a habit of overtaking any original strategy. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, the Prime Minister stated, ‘Yes let’s help with aid, but let’s not get any more involved’; a clearly defined strategy that barely lasted a day following the Defence Secretary’s visit to RAF Akrotiri in Cyprus.

During his visit, the Defence Secretary Michael Fallon informed military personnel that the UK’s role in Iraq had expanded beyond the original humanitarian mission to include surveillance of Islamic State forces. If anything, this demonstrates how an unstable situation on the ground, over which we have no control, can unexpectedly intensify and end up dragging us deeper into the conflict.

In recent days RAF Tornado bombers and advanced River Joint surveillance aircraft have flown reconnaissance missions deep into Iraq, relaying information of IS movements to US aircraft and Kurdish forces. At this present moment the RAF is not involved in any combat operations, although with the military hardware in place and the recent shift in political language, it is not impossible to imagine that Britain’s military role in Iraq could potentially change to more direct intervention, including the possibility of air strikes.

In his visit to RAF Akrotiri, Mr Fallon also told military personnel that ‘there may well be in the next few weeks and months other ways that we may need to help save lives [and] protect people’. The Prime Minister went further to state, he sees this crisis as ‘a generational struggle against a poisonous and extremist ideology’, which could bring terror to the streets of Britain unless ‘urgent action’ is taken to defeat it. The ambiguity of both statements is therefore an indication that the British government’s strategy in Iraq remains far from clear, with decisions for further intervention being influenced by events on the ground.

Obviously any escalation in military action would require the consent of Parliament, although the current political language, coupled with the volatile situation within Iraq, leaves the door wide open to the possibility of direct intervention.

By Liam Stott


[Image Credit: Julie Jordan Scott]