Tuesday, 29 April 2014

Opinion: Charities, Cuts and the Big Society

It’s been a while since I last wrote a blog but this particular issue has been niggling away at me.

I’m not much of a runner, any twitter followers will know that I play for Sonning Hockey Club and the most weekends hit the badminton court with some older comrades from the Labour Party. Next month I’m running the 5k Pretty Muddy Race for Life, at which point (all being well) I will join a long line of distance running Labour Councillors such as John Ennis and Matt Rodda. Besides being a generally good thing to do, my interest in charity fundraising has been encouraged by the increasingly brutal cuts forced on to the third sector by this government.

The National Council for Voluntary Organisations reported earlier this month that charities had lost over 1.3 billion pounds in the most recent spending cuts. At a local level charities will lose a significant 43% of their funding as a result of budget restrictions passed on by local councils. I am pleased to say however that in Reading at least, the Labour led council decided to protect the third sector budget.

Charities have a long history of supporting our public services and in many cases providing them. Direct cuts to the public and third sector are giving the green light to outsourcing and privatisation.

Over the holidays, Cameron claimed that Jesus invented big society and that he and his party were continuing that good work. Personally, I fail to see how cuts which disproportionately affect impoverished communities, disabled people and other vulnerable groups could possibly be a realisation of this.

The problem is that whether the cuts hit mental health, homeless provision or women’s charities, the end result is always the same. These cuts cost lives.

And naturally, here comes the fundraising plug:

By Sophia James

Saturday, 30 November 2013

Opinion: It's not about IQ, Boris

by Sophia James

This week Boris Johnson decided to show his true Conservative colours in a speech at the Centre for Policy Studies. Apparently greed is good and low IQs are bad.

Having viewed his speech, which you can see here. Boris makes it clear that those lacking in ‘raw ability’ may actually also be less valuable in terms of ‘spiritual worth’. He argues that we should do more in society to support those with high IQs and disregards other factors which hinder progress up the capitalist ladder. We live in a society where women earn on average 15% less than men due to the gender pay gap, a figure that increases to over 19% in the private sector and 21% for women of colour, where disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty and individuals with foreign sounding names are less likely to find employment. We also live in a country where 50% of young Black men are out of work and ‘gay’ is the number one playground insult.

If this wasn't bad enough, Boris goes onto to note that "16% of our ‘species’ have an IQ below 85, 2% have an IQ above 130". Before I could even contemplate his ignorance of disability, the subjectivity of IQ tests and disturbing dehumanisation of many hard working people in low paid work, I simply had to question Boris’ own intellectual prowess as he progressed this obscure argument into a metaphor about cornflakes.

Perhaps Labour MP Nia Griffith said it best when she exclaimed that ‘”the buffoon’s mask comes off”. Whilst the Mayor of London praises those scampering away with money at the top, families will be rehoused over Christmas, elderly members of the population will be unable to afford sky high heating bills and food banks will be stretched to the limit. It’s a strange thing to suggest greed is preferable in a country where 3.5 million children (that’s over a quarter of children in the UK) are living below the poverty line. One has to question what the spiritual worth is of a man who would support that.

If this is the potential future leadership of the Conservative Party, then it is even more imperative that we step up to the plate and return a Labour government in 2015.

Monday, 15 July 2013

Opinion: It's Time for Votes at 16

by Mata Durkin
The history of the suffrage of the electorate is long and eventful. Of course, the ones we remember the most are the Suffragettes - the women who fought and even, in some cases, gave their lives, in order for women to gain the vote in 1918 (but even then, there were a few restrictions). But that is not all - in 1867, the right to vote was extended to many manual workers, and in 1884, virtually all men - householders and tenants - could vote. That was changed in 1918, when not only did middle-class women over the age of 30 get the vote, but so did all men over the age of 21. It was changed to an equal voting age for men and women, at 21, in 1928, and finally in 1969 the age lowered from 21 to 18, which left us with what it is now. The criteria that allows people to have the right to vote has changed over the years, so maybe the next step is to lower it to allow 16 year old a chance to let their voices be heard.

One of the main arguments for lowering the voting age to 16 is that 16 is the minimum ‘legal age’ for many things. 16 year olds can have sex with their MP, live with their MP, marry their MP (with their parents’ permission), but cannot choose that MP. At 16, teenagers can choose to leave or continue their education or even decide to join the army. However, despite all this, 16 year olds still do not have the right to vote. It isn’t a question of their being irresponsible, otherwise they would not have so many responses at the moment, so the extension of suffrage is the only logical conclusion.

British politics is currently facing a participation crisis. Less than two-thirds of the country voted in the last general election and the brand new Police and Crime Commissioner Elections had an incredibly low turnout with no ballots at all being cast at one polling station. This affects democracy as it undermines the government’s legitimacy. Legitimacy refers to the strength of the mandate given to the government by the people and corresponds to the size of the majority (or minority) as well as the turnout. Without a high turnout, the governing party is in office against the will of the majority of the population. The lower a government’s legitimacy, the more they and the policies they introduce can be questioned as to whether it is truly democratic. By allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote, the number of those who can vote will increase, as will the turnout.

The argument that 16 and 17 year olds are not mature enough, or lack the intelligence to make rational political decisions is outrageous. What makes an 18 year old any different from a 17 year old? If 16 and 17 year olds are ‘immature’, an 18 year old can’t be that much more mature. If education is a problem, then it should be something to fix, and not to be used as an argument against. Instead of not allowing 16 and 17 year olds to vote on the grounds of ignorance and immaturity, politicians should be concentrating on creating an education system that educates young people politically. This will help them directly, as they will need to have this knowledge for later on in life.

In fact, lowering the age could also help create a better educated electorate. If the public are learning about politics at a younger age and getting directly involved younger, overall that will create a more politically educated electorate, which can only be a good thing. Currently, many would say that the electorate and the majority of the public know nothing or very little of politics, but getting involved younger may change that. This would also have the effect of removing or at least lessening the disillusion that is generally associated with politics, which would benefit society on a whole. If there is less disillusionment with politics, then overall, that can only be a good thing for democracy.

Many feel that youth interests are currently ignored and disregarded, so having 16 and 17 year olds being able to vote would allow politicians to take their view into account more. This way, the interests of young people will no longer be that topic that politicians have as a worry at the back of their mind, as they will have to include the views of young people in their policy making decisions.

16 year olds aren’t the trouble-making hooligans that match the stereotype, and they should not be denied the vote on the grounds of mere prejudice. Instead of making hypothetical accusations about what they would do with the vote, people should just accept that we are in fact more mature than they think, and are actually ready for this responsibility. Some changes to the education system to include more political education would help, but even so, I feel that the UK is ready for this change. It is natural for things to change, and this would be a change for the better.

Thursday, 9 May 2013

Opinion: Why Labour needs a hero...

by Sophia James
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it’s Ed Miliband and the One Nation Avengers. 

Yesterday Ed Miliband was dubbed an action hero after he dived into a busy London road and rescued a 29 year old woman from a bike accident. The woman in question, Ella Phillips, hailed the Labour leader a “suave”, “attractive” and stylishly dressed man, “a bit like an action hero”. Perhaps she was still concussed... however, the gallant, superhuman image of Red Ed swooping into British politics with his tights and cape are needed now more than ever.

Let’s be completely honest, the national scene for our party has been quieter than many would hope, with members being forced to sustain themselves with piecemeal policies. Even despite Labour’s improved turnout in traditionally Conservative areas last week and the prising of several authorities from cold, blue hands, the news - like a broken record, has continually recalled the UK Independence Party’s successes at the ballot box. It would seem somewhat ironic that a party once branded “fruitcakes, loonies and closet racists” by David Cameron, are now tightening their choke hold on his party and causing unrest amongst the greying Tory ranks. Is this the beginning of twenty first century British politics lurching to the right?

It was easy enough for UKIP to swoop in and steal the flag. The Liberal Democrats dug their own metaphoric grave by reneging on every single promise ever made, whilst the fluffy Tory party softened up on Europe and a range of social issues. Even the BNP suffered, with their vote collapsing in places like Spalding East and Moulton where they polled 20.5% in 2009. Four years later UKIP’s new found popularity relegated them to a low of 3.9%, which just in case you were wondering, we are extremely happy about. That said, the so called rise of UKIP is not just an issue for the aforementioned parties, Labour need to be vigilant to prevent further encroachment on their patch.  
Youth unemployment figures have remained high ever since the initial crisis five years ago. The Guardian reported recently that young people are three times less likely to be employed than adults and last year, the headlines stating that 50% of Black young males were out of work have left a bitter taste in our communities. Simply put, unemployment will play a key part in the next election and provides an opportunity for the Right to play on the plight of immigrants. 

A further issue which has exposed itself recently is the contrast between the money spent on the European Union and the strain on public services. The argument is unsophisticated yet media savvy. Withdraw from the EU, save money and decrease immigration to open up the job market. The difficulty is that the more nuanced arguments of international trade, free movement and collective strength are being sidelined. 

Another problem is the extortionate cost of the housing. The earliest a young person can expect to buy a house is the not so early age of 38. Shelter’s most recent campaign argues that if the price of food had increased at the same rate as housing, a chicken would cost over fifty pounds. Labour need to be pushing hard for capital projects of affordable housing, encouraging industries to set up paid apprenticeships or training opportunities and recognising the positive impact that immigration has on British society. 

The next election should be about the future and young people are the future. The Labour Party must reach out to disgruntled, dispirited voters and present an inspirational alternative to the ConDem attack on the young, the disadvantaged and the impoverished. Over the next few weeks we will be out in Reading surveying the youth population about concerns they have. We know this election cannot be won on rhetoric and here at Reading Young Labour, we will put the issues affecting our community at the heart of our campaigns. We only hope our caped crusaders in Labour Party HQ will be doing the same.