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What's going on in world politics right now?
Earlier this year, the United Kingdom held a referendum on whether to remain within the European Union, a referendum promised by David Cameron as a cynical attempt to get more votes in the 2015 General Election due to the gains being made by UKIP over fears about immigration. A referendum won by the Leave campaign in large part over fears about immigration.
A couple of months ago, the far-right, anti-migrant AfD - Alternative for Germany - party made big gains in regional elections.
Earlier this month, Donald Trump was elected as the next President of the United States, and the Republican party retained their majority in both Senate and Congress.
Stoking fears about immigration to control your population is a classic move of authoritarian nationalism - develop more power over your population by using "them" as a target of hate. Simply put, these parties are all the 'acceptable' faces of fascism. This has been building for a while and it is likely to continue building for the foreseeable future, both in these countries and elsewhere.
I've just finished watching the second debate, and I wanted to give my reactions straight away this time, rather than waiting half a week to comment on it.
Firstly, it was a lot closer this time. But, again, I think that Clegg had a showing that was stronger than the other two - even if by a much smaller margin. That's fine by me. I wanted to see him stand his ground, to not fall back under increased scrutiny and pressure, and he stood it well. A quick look at a few polls mentioned on the tail end of an article by the Independent agree with me - 2 of the polls have Clegg ahead of the other two, and the third one - the YouGov poll for The Sun - as Cameron ahead of Clegg. Frankly, we can begin to disregard the YouGov polls in my opinion - I'm going to have to write a whole post just about News Corp.
Secondly, Cameron made a point about scare-mongering tactics used by Labour a couple of times. But the Tory campaign has two focal points that use exactly those tactics - namely that a hung Parliament would be bad, and that voting for the Lib Dems is a vote for Gordon Brown.
It was amusing to see how the other two had copied ideas from Clegg - looking at the camera directly, commenting on the other two arguing amongst themselves, that sort of thing. I'm glad that Clegg didn't try to distance himself too far from the other two, he applied just the right amount of rhetoric to not overdo it. I particularly liked his opening and closing statements - they were positive messages, uplifting, particularly his closing statement. Running campaigns on messages of hope rather than messages of 'you have to pick me because everything sucks' is the right way of doing things.
Why haven't I mentioned the issues? Because there were no real bombshells. There's nothing really to highlight. We already knew much of what was said today. If you're unsure of the policies that the three parties hold, then the best thing you can do is watch the debate(s) for yourself, rather than read about them from a silly wannabe-blogger. If you want my opinion on whose policies I support, then it probably wouldn't surprise you to know that I like the Liberal Democrat policies - I think we need to engage more with Europe, I think that cutting back on public spending too soon would damage the economy but that cuts do need to be made in the medium-term, I think that a Trident replacement doesn't make sense for a country of our size when the two biggest nuclear problems - Iran and North Korea - not only are not focused on us, but have the USA and the wider global community breathing down their necks.
The only thing I've come across that I don't agree with is the plan to introduce heavier taxes on banks regardless of international support. I like the idea of moving our economy more towards things like highly skilled manufacturing and other industries where we can be a world leader - which requires good science funding, something which the Lib Dems and Labour are both supporting in different amounts but the Tories are planning to cut in a very short-sighted move - but that does not mean that banking has to be pushed away - and deploying such measures without international cooperation would do just that. Other than that, their policies simply make sense to me, which is why I support them.
I'm looking forward to the next debate. It will air at a similar time on the BBC, Thursday the 29th of April. One week after that is the election. So... We are just 2 weeks away.
So, I should have written about this a while ago, but I've been busy doing a few things - my birthday for one, cycling nearly 70km the day after, going to London yesterday etc etc. This won't be a long post though.
Last week's debate was the first of three, and focused on domestic issues. This week's will focus on foreign affairs, and is on a Sky channel. I believe said channel is accessible via Freeview, but it should - hopefully - be aired on the BBC late at night, which was the case with last week's, which aired at 11:30pm of the same evening. As a result, it'll be on the iPlayer later on. I'll link it on here and Twitter after the fact.
How do I think the debate went? Well, it was interesting, and I'm glad it took place. I hope we see it in future elections. The clear winner was Clegg - most people are agreed on that. However, he won't be able to rely on the 'I'm the outsider' rhetoric in tomorrow's debate and next week's.
Of the other two, Brown definitely seemed in the stronger position. I've heard a few commentators say that Clegg won on style, Brown on substance, and Cameron lost all round. I'd agree with that except in that Clegg had some good substance to his arguments too.
In my view, Cameron seriously underperformed except for the last two questions - which, lets face it, is the best time to perform better as that helps with the lasting impression. He couldn't answer questions posed to him, such as on education funding, and he even had an expression of confusion on his face a few times - I don't want a Prime Minister who is confused easily, I want one who knows what he is doing. He simply looked out of his depth, which surprised me.
The opinion polls put Cameron above Brown though, which reinforces what I've thought for some time - even if Brown is actually a clever man, who is on top of the situation and could be the right person to deal with it, his lack of charisma - including such things as forced smiles to try and fix that but make it worse - means that he is a liability for his party as a whole.
I'm looking forward to this week's debate. I'll try and get some proper analysis up sooner after the event - probably not immediately as I have no way of watching it live.
So, the three main parties have released their manifestoes. These documents are... pretty long, and the bulk of it is in politispeak - not the easiest thing to dissect. Thankfully, Newsnight is providing analyses for us, which I will provide links to and summarise. Don't forget, most iPlayer content, Newsnight included, only stays up for 7 days, so its worth watching sooner rather than later.
I'll go over the Lib Dem manifesto tomorrow - I'd like to compare notes with Newsnight first, as it were.
Labour - Manifesto launched on Monday 12 April.
Labour's manifesto handily includes a set of 50 main policy points on pages 74 to 78 - it's well worth reading if you can spare 5-10 minutes. However, there isn't much that is new to it, and that is not much of a surprise - why would the Labour party seek to completely reform the machinery of Government that it has had 13 years to build up? As a result, there isn't as much to talk about. I'll go over some of the key points though.
- Job or training place for young people who are out of work for 6 months - benefits cut at 10 months if they refuse; anyone unemployed for more than 2 years guaranteed work, but no option of life on benefits - this should cut down on benefit fraud if it works.
- National minimum wage staying at least in-line with average earnings - not the rate of inflation - and £40-a-week Better Off in Work guarantee - not sure how that would work yet, but as a complaint I've heard a few times before is that its better to be on the dole than in a low-paying job, then that's a good thing if it works.
- No stamp duty for first time buyers on housing below £250k for two years, paid for by an increase on £1 million houses.
- Choice of good schools in every area, and where applicable, powers for new 'school leadership teams'.
- Improvements to waiting times, particularly cancer testing, or offer of going private - that could mire underperforming trusts in debt if not carefully managed.
- 'Father's Month' of flexible paid leave for new fathers - a step towards new parent gender equality but still a way off.
- Small moves towards electoral reform.
There's no real surprises here, frankly.
One point which Newsnight worked on a bit too much I thought - even before I saw the Tory manifesto analysis - was the lack of a pledge to keep VAT the same. Ed Milliband stated in his interview that it had never been mentioned in any other New Labour manifesto, but that doesn't really settle one's thoughts on the topic due to the economic situation. Here's my take on it: Putting up VAT would be a hugely unpopular move - both inside and outside Parliament. True, by not mentioning it they can simply save face if they do have to raise it - we made no commitments on VAT and such - but it will still be very unpopular, and they know that just as well as we do. But it gives the party some leeway in dealing with the public finances - if the economy underperforms, they have a means by which they can help bolster the taxes and meet their election pledge to half the deficit by 2014. I believe that some economists already consider Labour's growth estimates to be optimistic, but they would have to be more than simply optimistic to warrant the public backlash that a VAT hike would bring. And hey, growth in Q4 2009 (I think it was that period, may be wrong) was actually higher than their prediction. Not saying that growth will be higher than their predictions all the way, but their predictions may not be quite so optimistic as feared.
Conservative - Manifesto launched on Tuesday 13 April
I apologise for this section being so much longer than the Labour section - there is simply more to talk about as the Tories are not already in power. It should be an interesting read though, I hope.
The Tory manifesto shows two key things about the party that make them different from Labour. Firstly, the ideological process is entirely different. Left-wing politics tend to be about the state having more control to create equality for all, whereas right-wing politics - ignoring the far-right wing - are generally about reducing the involvement of the state and allowing local communities to do their own thing. That is exactly what their manifesto is about - letting people set up their own schools, referendums on increases to council tax, being able to sack your MP... All of this sounds good, but would it work well in reality?
Of the three points I mentioned, I'll take the last one first as it is the one that makes most sense. The ability to remove your MP - presumably to force a by-election where that same person may have the option of running for the seat again if their party decides to put the same person up as a candidate - is good. It is something that people want, especially in the wake of the expenses scandal. However, when you look at this as a part of electoral reform as a whole, the picture changes. See, the Tories are very much against any concept of electoral reform - proportional representation and the like. The ability to remove an MP and force a by-election, argubly, goes against their own ideals. While it is a good idea, to me it reads simply as a populist measure to gain votes. As does much of their manifesto. Referendums on council tax increases, for instance. That sounds good, but let's face it - many people will vote no to any tax increase, no matter how justified. The council won't be able to keep up with providing services, so they'll have to make cuts.
The issue of schools is an interesting one. The model they have adopted is a Swedish one, whereby people will be encouraged to set up - with funding - their own schools. It certainly sounds good, and I have no doubt that it could produce some good schools. However, a member of the public in Newsnight raised a good issue with this; devolution of powers over education to local populaces would have a high chance of causing an increase in regional inequality. What does that mean? In areas where there are enough people who have enough interest in the topic to get actively engaged, and have the means where they can afford to do so, good schools could come out of it. But not every area of the country is like that. There will be areas where people cannot afford to take time off of work, or don't have much interest in taking part, and will simply accept that their local school is good enough. You just need to watch the ask-the-public parts of these Newsnight features to see how uninterested many people are in politics, and it isn't a stretch to believe that many of these people, when presented with the chance to create a better quality of education if they engage with the topic, just won't bother.
Another point worth mentioning in brief is the idea of electing police officials. This is another populist measure that, in practice, most likely would not be good. There is an awful lot in an institution like the police that we simply do not understand. Jeremy Paxman raised this point well in Newsnight - if the common crime-related concerns are small crimes such as vandalism and ASBOs, what would happen if you voted in an official who focused too much on these points, either through sharing the popular view or simply wanting the vote? What would happen to other crimes, such as murder, terrorism? Do we really know the police better than people who have worked up through the ranks? I'm all for accountability, but sometimes a line has to be drawn. Stepping beyond that line for me would be stepping into ignorance. For others, stepping beyond that line is something that they have based their entire career around.
My second point, and a key one; the Conservative manifesto has a lot of holes in it. It is a concept of a new philosophy of Government, and one that - in my view - does not stand up to scrutiny. Beyond that, it does not set out how they would do all this; it does not talk about money. For an election situated in a time where finances are key, it is lacking on policies. I think this is a good way of summing up the Conservative party as a whole - the surface looks good, but under that, questions arise. Cameron likes to say that the Tory party has modernised, but they haven't; they still vote against gay rights, they still value the idea of 'marriage' in a time where people don't necessarily want to be married. They even want to bring back fox hunting! But they don't want us to look at that, they want us to look at David Cameron, the charismatic ex-PR leader of the party.
Want to know what's on the third page of the manifesto? A picture of Cameron, in black and white (with green divider lines above and below - not a colour vs black and white printing issue), writing at a desk. Cult of personality, anyone? This isn't American politics - we don't vote for a Prime Minister and Chancellor duo. We vote for a whole party. Has the whole party modernised? I don't think so.