Britain’s next Commissioner – Another European Headache for David Cameron

The Nick vs Nigel debate are over. David Cameron managed to avoid them without receiving too much criticism. But now he has a crucial decision to make regarding Britain’s future within the European Union. The majority probably wish that the topic of Europe would just fade away into the background. David Cameron too, no doubt, would want that. Instead, he has to start thinking about who is best suited to represent Britain on the European Commission. Whoever he chooses will be crucial in any re-negotiation talks between Britain and the EU and this puts Cameron into a serious dilemma.

Andrew Lansley – the best man for the job

The political views of the individual will most likely shape how influential Britain’s new representative will be. The Commission President, who too will be newly elected in the summer, hands out the portfolios. It is safe to say that following Baroness Catherine Ashton’s rather prestigious title as Vice-President of the Commission as well as being in control of Foreign Policy, Britain will not get one of the top jobs. There are still some important roles such as Trade that David Cameron would like to get his hands on.

He could choose a staunch Europhile. No doubt this individual would be welcomed with open arms into the Commission and could be rewarded with a significant portfolio which would make this person a much respected member. Here, though Cameron faces two problems. First, he will anger his own Eurosceptic backbenchers. Secondly, a Europhile is unlikely to want the same changes that Cameron wants. There has however, been very few names form this category that have expressed an interest suggesting that a Europhile is not the way Cameron is looking.

Then is it better to go for a Eurosceptic? He would no doubt please many backbenchers in the party and would actually show that he is serious about Britain wanting a better deal with Europe. The downside is, a Eurosceptic is unlikely to get a significant position. If Britain is not in one of these top roles, then it will make it much more difficult for the member to be influential. Peter Lilley and Owen Patterson have both been linked to the job form the Eurosceptic wing of the party. Peter Lilley in particular is a name that has pooped up on several occasions. A key man during the Thatcher and Major years, Lilley has the political experience that could make a good choice. He too has said that he will ‘relish’ the opportunity if it was offered to him.

There is the option of going with somebody who has not made a public view on Europe. Here, we could look at both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley. Both regarded as ‘heavyweights’ in the party with both having held government positions. With the Plebgate scandal still quietly continuing in the background, Mitchell may not be the favoured choice, despite claims that he is owed a favour from Downing Street. That leaves Lansley, somebody who has though been criticised for a lack of flair.

Lord Mandelson, who is a former trade EU Commissioner, has said that both Lansley and Mitchell would be more influential than Lilley or Patterson and he is probably right. The new Commission President is looking most likely to be the former Prime Minister of Luxembourg Jean – Claude Juncker, very much a strong supporter of the EU. He is very much aware of Cameron’s proposals and just the other he openly criticised them/

Therefore, it is best for Cameron to choose a ‘middle’ candidate. Both Andrew Mitchell and Andrew Lansley would be well suited. With the controversy still standing around Andrew Mitchell then Lansley would seem to be better suited. Despite a lack of flair, his experience as a civil servant and government minister should make him well suited to tackle the levels of bureaucracy in Brussels and possibly deliver the reforms that Cameron has continued to promise.

As Sir Menzies Campbell has said, it is a ‘lose-lose’ situation for Cameron. There is no move in which he would please the whole party. If he makes the wrong move, he could struggle to get any of the reforms that he wants. Looking into it, this is one of the biggest decisions that Cameron will make this year. It could also be one of the most difficult decisions he will make.

Jeb Bush – The GOP’s best hope of a 2016 victory

The 2016 Presidential Election may seem a long way off, but speculation is already building as to who will run for the two main parties. For the Democrats, it would appear to be a one-horse race with Hillary Clinton the overwhelming favourite. However, the Republican nomination is much more open, with a variety of possible candidates having been touted. Although New Jersey Governor Chris Christie is still seen as a likely contender, recent weeks have seen a new figure rise to the fore: former Florida Governor Jeb Bush, the son and brother of two former presidents. Having previously ruled out running in past elections before speculation was allowed to gather, now seems to be the time for Governor Bush. The question is, do the GOP want him?

I wholeheartedly believe that Jeb Bush would make a fantastic president. A moderate Republican, he even has some Democrat admirers due to his hugely successful tenure as Florida Governor and would therefore be able to reach out to swing voters and independents. His appeals to the centre ground have been highlighted in the past week, after he made a series of comments advocating a more liberal immigration policy. I can’t say that I agree with all of his rhetoric, particularly his view that illegal immigration is not a felony but ‘an act of love,’ but yet these are forgiveable sins, and could indeed help Governor Bush shore up support amongst minority groups. The last two elections have proven that the GOP has a serious problem gaining votes from the Hispanic and African-American communities, but yet it shouldn’t be this way; after all, the Republicans were traditionally the party of civil rights, whilst America’s Hispanic community is largely Catholic and socially conservative.

The main reason why many people dismiss Jeb Bush’s chances is his family name. However, this could in fact work in his favour. Despite only serving one term as president, his father George HW Bush is a popular elder statesman, whilst the US people are starting to reassess George W Bush’s legacy, with a recent poll suggesting that he is the second most admired man in the USA, ahead of Bill Clinton. Therefore, whilst it is vital that Jeb successfully proves that he is his own man, Hillary Clinton will also have to separate her candidacy from her husband’s presidency. A much more realistic concern is that a Bush v Clinton race would create a sense of apathy and disillusionment amongst the US people tired of the same old family dynasties, but yet I reckon this can be avoided as long as both candidates run fresh and effective campaigns.

Many on the right wing of the Republican Party fear that Jeb Bush is not sufficiently conservative to be their man in 2016, and whilst I understand some of their concerns they also have to think about which scenario they would prefer; a Jeb Bush presidency, or Hillary Clinton in the White House as a result of the GOP fielding an unelectable candidate. The Tea Party may be successfully mobilising conservative support, but running on an uncompromisingly hard-right platform in 2016 will not go down well with minorities, swing voters and independents and instead will simply deliver the presidency to the Democrats for a third term. If Jeb Bush could run the USA in the same way that he ran Florida, I believe the fears of the Tea Party would soon disappear, as they would realise that he is a conservative after all.

George Reeves

Also posted on http://georgereeves1994.blogspot.co.uk/

Nick v Nigel: There was only going to be one winner

I recently wrote a piece for my personal blog describing how under Nick Clegg’s leadership, the Liberal Democrats have become a spent force in British politics. Today’s much anticipated showdown between Clegg and UKIP leader Nigel Farage proved that to be the case, and despite his best attempts, the Deputy Prime Minister was well and truly defeated by a man barred from participating in the general election debates.

That isn’t to say that Clegg didn’t try his very hardest to dominate; he resurrected the old tricks successfully employed during the 2010 election campaign, staring straight down the camera and addressing members of the audience by their first names. But unfortunately for the Lib Dem leader, the public now know better, and like a jilted ex-girlfriend the British people will not give a second chance to the man who seduced them and made them feel good about themselves before letting them down big style. Now, it is Nigel Farage and UKIP who are winning the argument, and tonight’s performance was proof of that.

Public debate is what Nigel Farage does best, mixing folksy charm with a sharp sense of humour and a surprisingly comprehensive grasp of the key facts and figures. Therefore, a debate about his favourite political issue, Britain’s membership of the EU, was a godsend for the UKIP boss. For the first time in his career, he was given the opportunity to lay out his case in the public arena and oppose a man who is the personification of everything UKIP oppose. After all, Nick Clegg’s political career began in the European Parliament, and now as Lib Dem leader he is on a mission to establish himself and his party as the most prominent pro-European voice in British politics.

Early polls suggest that the public overwhelmingly saw Farage as the winner of tonight’s debate, and this is something which should frighten Mr Clegg. Not only is it further proof of the implosion of Lib Dem support, but it could also be a sign that the British people are becoming more Eurosceptic. The Guardian has attempted to suggest that whilst Farage won this battle, the war is still being won by the Europhiles, but this argument simply does not stack up. If pro-EU politicians such as Nick Clegg are unable to lay out their arguments in a convincing manner during a prominent public debate, then the logical conclusion is that people will soon become disenchanted with Europe, its institutions and its supporters. Undoubtedly, Farage’s personality and UKIP’s stance on social issues have helped to boost levels of support for the right wing party, but their stance on the EU remains their most attractive selling point (indeed, Farage recently indicated that he was prepared to relax UKIP’s hostility to gay marriage).

Tonight’s debate was more than just a battle between two politicians vying for votes. It was a clash between two very different visions for Britain’s future, and it represented the polarisation of British politics over the issue of Europe. By choosing not to take part, it was the two main parties which ended up looking out of touch and obsolete; for all Nick Clegg’s faults, at least he had the guts to defend denying the British people a say over their own sovereignty in the face of the nation’s most popular Eurosceptic. However, only one of these visions can triumph, and Nigel Farage tonight showed that he is on the right side of the argument – let’s hope that the British people don’t let themselves get duped once again by Clegg and his cronies.

George Reeves

Make way for a new, strong and ‘weird’ Miliband

It has not been Ed Miliband’s most successful week as Labour leader. His response to the budget last week was filled with the usual Labour sound bites which resulted in a speech that simply was not relevant. It simply just reinforced the clear fact that he is not (and probably never will be) in a position to become Prime Minister. It has been very enjoyable flicking through the papers seeing the Labour leadership in crisis. Both The Times and The Telegraph stating that Miliaband is under pressure, the Financial Times saying that they are in a mess over pensions. There is also the very interesting poll that concluded that 41% of the electorate think Miliaband is weird (backed up on the video of him sniffing a woman on TV).

Almost four years after being elected, it is not surprising that there is anxiety on the backbenchers. Grassroots are also panicking. They are worried that their top man is simply not getting any better. The concerned in the party have now acted. They have essentially told Miliband to toughen up and not to ‘play safe’. They are anxious that the Labour leader is solely relying on the unpopularity of the government to win a majority. His populist policies too, according to the signatories of a letter sent to him, do not appeal to the widespread voting public. Now while this letter is not a direct criticism of his leadership, it does show the concerns within the party. With the general election looming, I think it is safe to say that these events are just the beginning. As we get closer, they will realise that Miliband is simply not suitable to be given the top job.

No doubt though Miliband will try to improve. Will he roll up his sleeves and become more aggressive? The answer is no. He will give it all he has got but frankly it does not seem to be in his character. His ‘Wallace’ image will always stay with him. After almost four years, it is very difficult to change the public opinion. He has failed to prove himself as a real leader and now time has essenatilly run out to change that.

After failing to find a Labour supporter who praises him, it is difficult to understand why he is still there. There have been a few quiet suggestions for a possible ‘coup’ with Alistair Darling being lined up. Soon, one could imagine a scene from The Thick Of It, with a senior Labour official stating that ‘Miliband is unelectable’. While it is unlikely, I am sure some members are saying that very quietly to themselves. Despite the pressure that will be put on him, it is unlikely he will change. Strong leadership does not seem to be one of his traits. As tensions grow, I cannot wait for the divisions in the party to emerge.

Ben Callaghan

Boris for PM? Let’s hope not

It was all going so well. The sun was shining and the rain had eased off, and so my girlfriend and I decided to walk along the canal into Birmingham city centre to get some lunch at Brindley Place and pick up some shopping. However, all feelings of content soon evaporated when I walked into Sainsbury’s and saw, emblazoned on the front page of The Sun, the headline ‘PM: I want Boris with me as an MP.’ I let out an almost audible groan, mainly because Rupert Murdoch had seemingly lost all common sense by allowing James Corden to guest edit my beloved paper, but also because of the contents of that headline. The country may love him, but I’m afraid I will never succumb to Boris-mania – the question is, why has the Prime Minister?

Before I am accused of being a killjoy or a ‘Boris hater,’ let me justify my position. I openly admit that Boris is a highly intelligent man; despite his clownish public image, he remains an Oxford graduate with a degree in Classics. Likewise, he also possesses the skill of having huge levels of charisma, despite being an appalling public speaker. He is certainly not a Barack Obama or even a Tony Blair, instead bumbling his way through speeches in an often incoherent mixture of Latin, Greek, and his own made-up words (and he also occasionally throws in the odd bit of English). But yet the crowds lap it up – he is funny, witty, and refreshingly down to earth, happily falling into ponds and getting stuck on zipwires for the general amusement of the British people.

However, like most clowns there is a darker side to Boris Johnson, a side which renders him unsuitable for the job of Prime Minister. For one thing, he makes David Cameron look like a man of principle, which is no easy feat, and I truly believe he is one of the most slippery characters in British politics. From his hazy private life to his political ambitions, everything about Boris is vague and fuzzy. Having strenuously denied any ambition to be Prime Minister just a few years ago, saying that he had more chance of being ‘reincarnated as an olive,’ he has now all but admitted his true ambitions, whilst secretly his allies fume that it was his old Eton rival who took the top job. Indeed, he even admitted during the 2005 leadership campaign that he was only voting for Cameron out of ‘pure, cynical self-interest.’ One thing is for sure about Boris – he is calculating, ambitious, and potentially ruthless.

As well as his own personal defects, Boris simply lacks the statesmanship to serve as Prime Minister of this country. We would, quite frankly, become the laughing stock of the world. Likewise, he would provide the left with an endless supply of mud to sling at the Conservative Party, having made a series of racist, sexist and generally offensive comments. From joking about black people having ‘watermelon smiles’ to describing the city of Portsmouth as being ‘full of drugs, obesity, underachievement and Labour MPs,’ these comments would suggest that, at best, Boris is naive and insensitive, and that in the worst case he is actually a rather bigoted man. I do not personally believe he means any harm, but he certainly doesn’t endear himself to the humourless Guardian-reading middle classes either.

I oppose almost everything that Ken Livingstone stands for, but at least when he was Mayor of London he was harmless. Indeed, I would even go as far as saying that his eight-year tenure was surprisingly successful. Boris, on the other hand, is a totally different story. Whilst Ken Livingstone used the position of London Mayor to sign off his long political career, Boris is using it to build up a power base within the Conservative Party and to establish himself as Britain’s most recognisable and well-known politician. For a man whose intentions are often so difficult to work out, his machinations from City Hall are only too clear. David Cameron may be willing to welcome him back as a Conservative MP, but it won’t end well for Britain.

George Reeves

Good news for Britain in Osborne’s ‘beer and bingo’ Budget

Today must have been the day from hell for the Labour Party, as not only did they have to endure George Osborne unveiling a set of fair and sound changes in this year’s Budget, but they also had to experience the pain of watching Ed Miliband attempt to respond to these proposals. Predictably, Miliband trotted out the usual platitudes, accusing Osborne of failing to fix the economy (which Labour trashed in the first place) and cutting taxes for the rich whilst the rest of the nation suffers (which is just simply untrue, and always has been). But despite Labour’s protestations, Osborne should be commended for delivering a Budget that will truly help the British people by implementing some truly conservative policies.

The tabloids have been quick to dub this the ‘beer and bingo’ Budget, as Osborne has announced that beer duty and tax on bingo halls will be cut. Such measures may be shameless in their populism, but are certainly not bad ways to reach out to those people who often feel disillusioned by an ‘out of touch’ Conservative Party. And regardless of their populism, these measures already seem to be working; immediately after the cuts to bingo duty were announced, bingo hall operator Rank Group announced plans for three new clubs. The lesson – tax cuts are popular, they work, and they are vital to create jobs and stimulate the economy.

Beer and bingo aside, Osborne proved his Thatcherite credentials by announcing that the government’s Help to Buy housing scheme will be extended, good news for aspiring homeowners across the country. Likewise, the level of earnings exempt from income tax has been increased by £500, whilst the threshold for the 40p tax rate has also risen. These are all positive measures, reducing the amount of tax being paid at all income levels and rendering Labour’s arguments about the Conservatives just helping the rich absolutely meaningless.

Osborne also appealed directly to pensioners by announcing radical reform of the pensions system. In a move which will help 13 million people, the changes reduce the level of tax on a person’s pension pot, and abolish all restrictions on access to those pension pots, ending the mandatory purchasing of an annuity. This is a shrewd move from the Chancellor, and one which looks ahead to next year’s general election due to the high voting levels of pensioners. The ‘grey vote’ cannot be underestimated, and the Conservatives cannot afford to risk losing votes from this particular demographic.

Overall, the Budget is hugely promising, proving that by implementing policies which are unashamedly conservative, all people stand to benefit. The Conservatives are slowly beginning to prove that they understand what ordinary people want, outclassing the Labour Party in the process. The pitiful sight of Ed Miliband simply repeating tired soundbites in response was proof that Labour haven’t got a clue, and are not fit to govern. Let’s just hope that the recovery isn’t jeopardised at next year’s general election, because we as a nation cannot afford to hand the keys back to the people who crashed the car.

George Reeves

Are Americans ready for another Bush?

If Jeb Bush gets elected as President of the United States in 2016 it would mean that the last three Republican Presidents would have been form the same family. There is also little doubt that the Bush family will become the most famous and influential political family in the world overtaking the Kennedys. But before we think about this we have to ask a simple question. Are Americans ready for another member of the Bush dynasty in the White House?

A poll has suggested that many Americans are not exactly thrilled by the prospect of another President Bush.  There is a general feeling that many Americans could be suffering from a so-called ‘Bush fatigue’.  This is essentially the problem that faces Jeb Bush.  He could shine on national television and build up support in the Republican Party. But many of the population may think he is just one Bush too many.

But for the people who are not suffering from ‘Bush fatigue’ they may notice his ability to succeed in elected office. From 1999-2007 he was the Governor of Florida and the only Republican to have served to full four year terms.  While in the post, he was praised for his improvements in health care, education and environmental services as well as improving the economy in the region.  If people cleared their minds of the past, they could see that Bush is somebody who could be well suited for the job.

In November, I wrote a piece about Chris Christie, a possible rival to Jeb Bush in 2016. Through the ongoing investigation ‘Bridgegate’ incident however, his chances may have suffered.  While it may be a loss to the Republican Party, Jeb Bush could fill his place.  In 2012 the Republicans suffered to win the support of certain groups such as the Hispanics and women.  This Hispanic vote in particular is now essential to win. Often regarded as the ‘sleeping giant’ of American politics, it was arguably their support to the Democrats that led to Obama winning re-election. This problem with the Hispanics arose when McCain and Romney were the nominees for the Republican Party. But if you look back to 2000 and 2004, George W. Bush did very well in winning over this group and this is something that Jeb could repeat come 2016. His wife, Columba Bush is of Hispanic origin and like his older brother, Jeb also speaks Spanish which is regarded as a key way to align themselves with this group. There are also his connections in Florida. From the famous events in 2000, this has been a crucial state which in 2012 carried 29 Electoral College votes. This is a must-win state for the Republicans and through his past connections, it would be surprising if they did not win it.

The main threat would be from Hilary Clinton. I would be amazed if she does not win the Democrat nomination come 2016. It is time the Republicans reclaimed the White House and to do so they need to pick the right candidate. If Bush runs and Christie can avoid the allegations than they already have two strong candidates not to mention others such as Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Obama has not shown strong leadership during his tenure and only the Republicans can essentially deliver this. If the Republicans fail yet again, then serious questions about the credibility of the party will be asked. If the Tea Party agrees to support a ‘middle’ candidate such as Jeb Bush, then this strong sense of unity could lead them to victory. With Jeb Bush, the US could have a suitable President in waiting.  If people look at him as an individual, I am sure that he would be attractive to a large majority of the American population.

Ben Callaghan

Kerry has missed a perfect opportunity that Putin will not offer again

Kerry with Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister

John Kerry is a man with extensive knowledge in foreign affairs having chaired the Senate Commission of Foreign Relations from 2009 to 2013. When he was nominated by President Obama to succeed Hilary Clinton as US Secretary of State, he was regarded as a safe pair of hands and somebody who was suitably qualified for the role. He has shown his determination to solve international problems such as his success in the Iran nuclear talks. His handling of the situation in Ukraine in recent days however, raises one particularly interesting question. Why has Kerry refused to meet Putin to find a diplomatic solution?

The answer given to us by US officials is that there will be little to discuss if the referendum on Crimea’s future goes ahead on Monday. The outcome of this referendum is going to be very clear as David Aaronovitch repeatedly said on Question Time, it is going to be rigged.  The fact is, however, that this will not end on Monday. The ousted Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych said in Russia yesterday ‘I will be back in Kiev’.  He, along with the Russian government and the pro-Russian people of Ukraine believe he is their legitimate President. If Russia get their way in Crimea (which is looking inevitable), attention will then shift back to Kiev and Eastern Ukraine where there will no doubt be heavy protests as Yanukovych will try to reinstate himself as the country’s leader.

It seems odd that Kerry would miss this opportunity. Putin is clearly in control of the situation and he is not going to repeatedly offer invitations to Kerry to talk about the crisis. There have been claims by the US that Sergey Lavrov, Russian Foreign Minister was not authorised to lead talks, but this is quite difficult to believe judging by the amount of meetings he and Putin have been conducting.

Relations between Lavrov and Kerry were already strained and this latest snub will no doubt stretch them even further apart making a diplomatic solution more and more unlikely. On Monday, Crimea will vote on its future and if this happens, the US has said that diplomacy between the two nations would be hopeless.  That would therefore lead to economic sanctions as military intervention would not be supported by the US or the EU.

But then another question has to be asked. Is it in the countries interests to impose sanctions? For the US it probably is but how much pain can they inflict? There have been talks of freezing assets of wealthy Russians in the West. This could be very painful and Putin himself has noted this telling those with assets in the US to relocate before the freeze can be put in place. Another plan that is being discussed is missing the G8 Summit that is to be held in Sochi. However, this will do very little damage to Putin.

The EU will unlikely support such an approach with many countries, including Germany, relying on Russia for gas and this is why Putin is in a very powerful position.  He knows the power that Russia has over many European states and relishes having this power.  Kerry however, needs the strength to overcome this. Kerry needs to continue down the diplomatic path no matter what happens in Crimea on Monday as it will not be the end. It would be very surprising if Putin offered such an opportunity again. But if he did, Kerry must not miss it.

Ben Callaghan

Boris Johnson – Will he or Won’t he?

The news that Boris Johnson is still unsure whether to stand in 2015 is back in the limelight.  He has ruled out returning to Parliament before the election amid claims that George Osborne was pressuring him to do so by offering him the role of Chairman of the Conservative Party.

Mr Johnson’s political future at this point is very hazy. All we know is that he will remain as mayor of London until 2016. But that does not stop him seeking a way back into Parliament. If he decided to run, there is no doubt whatsoever that he would be elected, as he would be given one of the safest Conservative seats in London.  Cameron has said that when he returns he would immediately join the cabinet (of course this depends on a victory in 2015). Therefore, has Boris really got anything to lose?

As an ambitious man, he will most likely as we speak be eyeing up the position of leader. While he will have no problem being elected, he may face trouble being elected leader (if the position arises). He is respected by the majority of the party, and shares his ideology with many of them too – a liberal, who like Cameron will help modernise the party and attract a wider range of voters.

But there is the issue of his ‘silly’ behaviour which has made him a popular figure with the people, but it is not sure how well it would go down in the House of Commons.  Maybe come 2015, we may see a more ‘calm’ Johnson which many may find a more attractive quality for a Prime Minister.

How would the public react to him as leader? I think here we will get mixed reviews.  Essentially regarded as a ‘celebrity’ icon by the British public, there will no doubt be support for him as a possible Prime Minister. Who knows, his liveliness and humour may make the office of Prime Minister more attractive and spurge a new interest in politics.

There are of course, many who are sceptical of him. His appearance on TV shows such as Have I Got News For You have shown a side to him you would not necessarily trust as a senior political figure. Also his affairs and his overall character are something many people would not want to see in Downing Street.  Despite this, he has proven himself a very good politician, somebody who is likeable and can get their message across. As an ‘outsider’ from Parliament, he very well may be the ideal man for the job. George Osborne, Teresa May and Jeremy Hunt could all see themselves in Number 10. He could bring some new life to the party and when the position arises, Boris will just have to prove himself that he is leadership material. Of course, we still do not know what his plans for the future are.

Ben Callaghan

The European Autumn – Ukraine’s Future

Until recently many would profess a lack of knowledge towards the state of Ukraine however the recent escapades that have been played out in an almost Hollywood like manner have thrust it into the spotlight. If the Arab Spring was the democratic revolution of the Arab world then this would be the revolution of what that democracy would be in Ukraine.

The media has been full of the violence and corruption displayed by the government forces of the now former president Viktor Yanukovych who started the protests by refusing to sign a deal with the EU while signalling his intentions to grow closer to Russia. Which would be like having a cigarette in a firework factory; foolish, explosive and dangerous. It is worth noting that Ukraine only achieved independence from Russia in 1990 however despite the two decades of ‘freedom’ it seems that Russia is more than happy to reassert its position in Eastern Europe as it has been reported (though not confirmed by the Kremlin) that Putin has ordered a test of combat readiness of troops in central and western Russia. Unless he fears an invasion from Ukraine (think Goliath vs David with David being unarmed and Goliath wearing a suit of armour) this move can only be seen as an attempt to pressure the new Ukrainian government into continuing the pro-Russia policies.

The media frenzy over this situation has produced some memorable highlights including the house of the former President complete with a galleon and a golden toilet; which due to the poverty of the country, where significant numbers are starving or in extreme poverty; can only be described as actually taking the p**s.

Ukraine is in a dangerous position with Russia becoming more overt on its borders, a non-confirmed government in power that not all support as well as ongoing protests over this situation mean that the parallel with Egypt is hard to avoid. Ukraine has the potential to become a solidified player in the international system as well as stable nation for its citizens, but the fastest manner for this would be a Mandela figure to emerge. But seemingly lacking this asset the state of Ukraine faces the risk of being one again subjugated by a foreign power.

What is needed right now is a broad consensus in both national and international institutions in order to move forward into a stable position for Ukraine. Complicated somewhat by both local political divisions and having Russia as the next door neighbour with its eyes on the military send button. Ukraine has economic potential so it makes sense for Britain and the rest of the international community to send non-military assistance into the region.

Jack Fennell

The way we tackle human rights in Africa is simply not working

Africa, as I am sure you are aware, is a continent with a very dubious human rights record.  While many countries have improved such as South Africa, there are a number of countries that appear in the news for the very wrong reasons. For instance, we see political corruption in many of these countries, most notably Zimbabwe and we also see the passing of laws that are hostile towards certain groups within society. Uganda, is the most recent of these countries to have passed a controversial piece of legislation.

On Monday, the Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni signed a bill introducing tougher penalties for people who engage in homosexual activity. If found guilty, the punishment is life in prison. On a more positive note, the death penalty clause was removed but this has not removed the fear that now faces many in the country. One person said they were ‘very scared’ and said ‘I don’t know what going to happen’. Prior to this bill, homosexuality was already banned in Uganda. US President Barack Obama has called it a backward step and William Hague stated that he was ‘deeply saddened and disappointed’.

What happened yesterday however, was more disturbing. The national newspaper Red Pepper listed 61 known homosexuals under the headline ‘Exposed!’ and promised to name around 200 known homosexuals.  These included openly gay activists such as Pepe Julian Onziema and a Ugandan Hip-Hop star. The paper is not one of the most respected, but is read by a large portion of the population. It is unclear what the public response to this will be.

Britain has made it known that African nations that pass such types of legislation will be treated as human rights violators. Earlier last week, Britain and other Western nations urged the Ugandan president to veto the bill. He faced pressure from his own parliament to pass the bill.

Simply, condemning these pieces of controversial legislation seems to have a very small (if any) impact on the leaders behind it. The US Secretary of State John Kerry publicly criticised Nigeria for passing a similar law to that of Uganda. You could easily ask yourself what difference has it made? For years, there have been problems about Africa. When asked, politicians show their concerns, but we have not really seen any successful action in dealing with the problems.

In African countries such as Uganda, there are growing communities of a more liberal, Western – leaning middle class which is open to more alternative lifestyles. Therefore it can be said that African governments need to adapt to this growing class of people it is there to represent.

Is there any action that Western powers could take? In both the US and Britain there is growing support to cut of international aid with Uganda. The US gives Uganda $400 million a year while Britain gives £107 million. It seems unlikely though that this will happen as it is unclear what  may happen to these developing countries without international aid. One thing is clear. The current way of dealing with human rights in Africa is not working. To create results, a new method might be needed.

Ben Callaghan

 

Mitt Romney – The Best President America Never Had

I recently watched Mitt, a very well-made documentary about Mitt Romney’s two shots at running for the US presidency in 2008 and 2012. The film is made up largely of footage shot behind the scenes during the campaigns; footage of Romney preparing for debates, hugging his family, and praying with his wife, Ann. Viewers see the toll that campaigning for the world’s biggest job took on Romney and his family, and it would be impossible not to feel empathy and a degree of admiration for his toughness and self-belief, not matter what your political views.

Although I am not American, I take a huge interest in US politics and I followed the 2012 election campaign closely. It was interesting to see the way the British media covered the contest; there was near unanimous support for President Barack Obama to a degree where the press seemed unashamed about their anti-Republican bias. When Mitt Romney visited Britain he was vilified for comments he made about our readiness for the 2012 Olympics; you would have thought that the opinion of a man who successfully organised the 2002 Winter Olympics might be worth listening to, but the liberal British media were having none of it.

But if we step away from the media myths and analyse Romney the man, what do we find? Liberals depicted him as a flip-flopping millionaire with no understanding of ordinary Americans – as Romney admits in the documentary, he was seen as ‘the flipping Mormon.’ But in fact, this is not a fair caricature of the man. The media usually enjoys depicting Republicans as dogmatic and closed-minded, and so when Romney comes along and bucks this stereotype, he isn’t lauded for being a moderate but instead tarred with the ‘flip-flop’ label. His money was also highlighted as an issue, but why should Romney have to apologise for having been a successful businessman with a track record of turning failing companies around and creating profit and jobs? I would have thought these were virtues in a man seeking to run the world’s most powerful economy!

Ultimately, Romney faced a near impossible job in unseating President Obama in 2012; whilst some of Obama’s shine had faded during his first term he was still a force to be reckoned with. No one can deny that he is extremely charismatic, and elections seem to be what he does best, mobilising support and fighting off his detractors (albeit with a little help from his friends in the press). Even though polls suggested the election was too close to call before the results were released, no one really was in any doubt who the winner would be. However, I sincerely believe America and the rest of the world have missed out, as Mitt Romney would have made a truly fantastic president.

Having tried twice to reach the White House it is now clear that we will never see a President Mitt Romney. The Republicans now need to look forward to 2016, and potential candidates need to start getting their voices heard. A number of figures have been touted as possibilities – Jeb Bush, Chris Christie, Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz to name just a few. However, there is no front runner, and this puts the GOP in a difficult position; they cannot afford to lose in 2016, and America can’t afford a third term of a Democrat in the White House.

George Reeves

Originally posted at: georgereeves1994.blogspot.co.uk

A Conservative Crusader Against Modernity

If you are one of the many people who seem to be suffering from the lethal combination of ignorance and a sense of self-importance, then Question Time could very well be the programme for you. It was with great trepidation I tuned in to Thursday’s edition of the show, fully expecting the usual plethora of whiners and moaners to fully sap the soul of any hope for the future. Indeed, the only reason I attempted such remarkable masochism, was the appearance of what could perhaps be described as the most influential Anglo-sphere Conservative currently living; Roger Scruton. Being a rare combination of both an Intellectual and a Conservative, he offers an incredible wealth of philosophy to conceptualise politics in a way that transcends the traps of Modernity and Ideology.

In an age where politics is a barren wasteland for anyone concerned with truth or wisdom, figures like Scruton become a diamond in the rough. It takes serious courage and insight to ask on Question Time “Isn’t the problem, not the yobbery of the members of parliament, but the bad judgement of the people who vote for them?”. I could not help smile at the awkward grin on the Labour MP ‘Lizz’s’ face, as she said “controversial”. God forbid a Labour MP ever accepts an uncomfortable truth. Such criticisms of the electorate, while being entirely justified, simply aren’t usually levelled in a democracy. Vote chasing populism will always triumph in modern politics. Which is why we on the genuine Conservative right must turn to the likes of Oakeshott, Burke, Powell, Minogue, Scruton and maybe even Hayek (at a push). For these figures give us an outline of something far more sophisticated, that is the philosophy of Conservatism.

What Scruton represents to a philosophical Conservative approach, is that modern politics is shaped by a lot more than MPs and Politicians. While there are many things to disagree with from the revered John Maynard Keynes, he did get one thing right: “Practical men, who believe themselves free from any intellectual influence, are usually the slaves of some defunct economist”. Okay, maybe one small correction is required, we must supplant the word ‘economist’, with ‘academic’. For the works of Gramsci, Adam Smith, Karl Marx, Milton Friedman all influence the direction of public policy; and thus politics itself. We create consensuses around particular ideologies, that when they finally exhaust themselves, are replaced by another hyper-rational theory. What can very simply be deduced, is that culture and politics are entirely separate, but not exclusive. Those who control the institutions that define culture itself, such as universities, schools, churches etc. can define the direction of a nation itself. Public policy, is usually a reflection of those changes in broader society.

This is where Conservatism has the ability to triumph. Oakeshott once argued, that Conservatism was almost too sophisticated for politics; preferring instead to influence the world through culture and academia. This kind of approach is useful to anyone who seeks a revival in genuine Organic values, as opposed to the advances of one rational planner to the next. These archaic values, that are scorned so much by Starbucks-drinking Progressives, are simply the backbone of any healthy people. This is the message I feel figures like Scruton are attempting to force on the national phsycie of the Anglo-sphere countries; or what we may call the ‘West’. To return to this week’s Question Time, there was an excellent point in the debate, where Scruton blames the decline of educational standards not on one policy or another, but a general culture of indolence. It is this broader approach, that supersedes the narrowing agendas of Modernity. Once we understand that legislation is often the result of some ideological dogma, be that of the market or of the state, we can begin to construct a new politics based on genuine Organic values; that mitigate the changes of social engineers. We must wake up to the failure of the public sphere, whose primary goal for some time was to engineer society to ideology.

If there is one thing we can take from figures like Scruton, it would be to remember that politics is much more than just the actions of the state, or the ideologies that occupy public debate. It is in fact, a much broader thing, in which a broader culture can define the way we think and act. It is in this field, that we can hope to lead the almost-holy crusade to restore all things natural and organic, to restore our freedoms and traditions, our rights and our duties; and that force is, and always has been, Conservatism.

Dylan Grove

Could the Lib Dems really survival a tussle with Farage over Europe?

Britain and the EU is once again the major topic that is surrounding British politics. Both Nigel Farage and Nick Clegg have agreed to have a debate over the EU. Nick Clegg originally proposed the idea to Farage earlier this week and Fargae yesterday welcomed the suggestion.

If the debate goes ahead, it would certainly very interesting to see who would come out on top – Farage, a fierce critic of the EU or Clegg, a great supporter who at times as struggled to get his message across.  If we look at the recent success of UKIP it would seem that Farage would be the one with the most support.

Clegg however, has nothing to lose. He frequently speaks about the benefits of the EU and is now telling supporters to spread this message. He has made it very clear that the Liberal Democrats are in the ‘In’ party when it comes to Europe. Their recent party broadcast was based solely on the issue of Europe.

There is a fear, mainly by the Lib Dem party chairman Tim Farron, that the Lib Dems will suffer heavy losses in May. Looking at recent by-election results this would be no real surprise. So, it could be seen as a rather clever move by Clegg to have one last attempt to claw back support before the European election s. If he can win over voters who are still unsure about Briatin’s relationship with Europe, the damage in May might not be a serious.

For Farage, it is not enough. He wants Ed Miliabnd and David Cameron present at the debate. If this happened, we would essentially have a ‘dress rehearsal’ for the possible debates in 2015. Of course, we don’t know if there will be debates and we don’t know if Farage will be invited. However, it seems here that he is attempting to get the momentum going for these debates which he strongly believes he should be a part of.

Nevertheless, if the debates go ahead, Clegg could rescue the Lib Dems from decline. If he fails to win, then they have no chance of surviving.  It would be interesting to see how both Cameron and Miliband respond to this. Farage will no doubt continue to put pressure on them.  They will need to respond carefully, because if Farage is successful in the debate, it would have serious consequences for both Labour and Conservatives.

Ben Callaghan

‘So why are you actually here…?’

When Ed Miliband travelled to Purley in Berkshire on Tuesday, he probably believed that he would be welcomed with open arms by its residents who have been hit badly following the recent floods. Alok Sharma, the Conservative MP for Reading West publicly expressed his thoughts towards the Leader of the Opposition’s visit.

After refusing to shake his hand he asked ‘the issue is Mr Miliband, why are you actually here?’ . Miliband (who took a quick glance at the camera) looked dazzled and confused. When he was finally given time to speak, he said the reason he was there was to pressure the government to do ‘everything possible’.  Philip Hammond, the Defence Secretary, also came under fire from a flood victim live on television.

These events lead to one question: What can politicians actually do at times like this?

For Ed Miliband, the answer is nothing. All he can do is persuade the government. At times like this, the people want actions not words. They want people there who can make a significant difference.  It would have also helped Miliband if the last Labour government tackled the issue of flooding. As Alok Sharma said, Labour did nothing to solve the flood problems that they had in 2003. As usual, we have also heard Miliband complaining about the slow government response without him saying what he would have done if he was in David Cameron’s position.

As Prime Minister, David Cameron has every right to be there. After all, he has the power to solve the situation. Although the Government was slow in dealing with the situation, we are seeing some solutions such as the announcement recently that money will be available to help flooded victims.

Constituents of Alok Sharma praised him for his approach to Miliband. The fact is people are fed up of politicians capitalising on the event that is making life miserable for many. MPs have every right to be visible in their constituencies at times of difficulty. Miliband’s attempt to look useful has backfired who has been branded a ‘Westminster flood tourist’ simply interested in a ‘photo opportunity’.

There has still been a lack of action from both the Environment Agency and the Government. The military now is helping the mist vulnerable. The people are growing restless but as David Cameron said ‘it’s going to take time’. Flooding is expected to continue. To solve the problem, we need to leave to the people who have the power to do so.

Ben Callaghan

Vladimir Putin: The Greatest of Gay-Rights Campaigners…

Should you not be a hermit living under a particularly large rock in Outer Mongolia, leader of an Amish commune, or just a technophobe extraordinaire, you’ve likely noticed Google’s two footed leap into the Sochi gay rights debate earlier today. With their rainbow doodle, and emphasis on the fourth principle of Olympism, we’ve witnessed a rather surprising move from what is usually an apolitical company. Similarly, the giant US mobile provider AT&T yesterday condemned Russia’s gay-propaganda law, with official Olympic sponsor Coca-Cola showing a married gay couple in their recent Super-bowl advert, though have yet to condemn the Russian government outright. Closer to home, Channel 4 have incorporated the rainbow flag into their logo for the duration of the games, and have produced a gay cabaret performance (shown below), where a bearded man in his boxers sings to the tune of the Russian national anthem… It is to be shown regularly over the next month.

As an openly gay man myself (albeit not the greatest fan of the Gay Liberation Front), I find the sincere solidarity of these free individuals with the LGBTQ rights movement genuinely heartwarming. The raised awareness for the cause of equal rights, an appreciation for the distance we have travelled as a society in the past fifty years, and a better understanding of the day-to-day persecution faced by others around the world have all developed considerably over past months. And they’ve all come as the result of the pet-project of one man.

Despite rumors of shoddy building, widespread corruption and that the games are likely to provide a significant financial drain rather than benefit, Vladimir Putin has got his wish; the Winter Olympics are being held in his favorite city.  And his drive, dedication, and single-mindedness has benefited nobody more than the global gay rights movement.

Because some Games stand out in history, for reasons both good and bad. We remember 1936 as Hitler’s Nazi showcase, 1968 for the Black-power Salute, 1972 for the Munich massacre, 1980 and for the international boycott. Sochi’s legacy? A struggle against homophobia and authoritarianism.

For Vladimir Putin has created an unintentional showcase of his own. While the mirrored buildings have been carefully sculpted to dazzle and impress, he has provided the perfect opportunity for movements opposed to his rule, from around the world, to unite around one single cause, and present their case on a global stage. Indeed, there a few events which last so long, touch so many people, and have such a legacy as the Olympic Games.

And for that very reason, today Vladimir Putin writes gay history.

Tom Pike

Why Bob Crow is in no position to call a strike

Today commuters in London have woken up to chaos as Underground staff strike over proposed cuts and the closure of manned ticket offices. The strike is expected to last for 48 hours.  On 11th February, Londoners will face it all again.

It is the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) who are behind the strike action. Their leader is Bob Crow, man who earns around £145,000 a year and lives in a council house in London that is paid for by the tax payer.  He has also recently just returned from a holiday to Bermuda where he was pictured sunbathing on the beach and relaxing by a pool.

The main problem is here is not the fact that he was on holiday on the Caribbean just days before the strike (as Boris said Bob is entitled to his holiday). Instead, it is somebody in his position having the power to disrupt the lives of millions of working people in London. If he was somebody who worked hard for a living like the groups of people he represents, then maybe we could see the logic in why they are going on strike. However, Bob Crow is using this strike to score a point over his ‘political foe’ Boris Johnson.

Until yesterday, they had not spoken for years.  That was broken with an ‘armed stand-off’ on Boris’ monthly phone in on LBC. The events yesterday were quite dramatic with Bob Crow marching to City Hall demanding to speak to the Mayor and then phoning up his radio show as Bob from Woodford Green. Afterwards, he sat at City Hall for a large part of the day, waiting to see Boris. He left without seeing him.

The simple fact is that there should have been no strike action over the issue of closing ticket offices, especially not a strike of this size which would cause enormous disruption to the ‘greatest city on Earth’ (in the words of Boris). Boris was right in saying that we must use the technology we have to modernise Britain and a good way to do this is to use ticket machines. The vast majority of people will voluntarily use these machines now.

Instead, all they have to do is sit down and talk it through. It got a bit ridiculous yesterday when Boris said he would not talk to Bob for organising a strike and Bob would not talk until Boris changed his demands.  If they both keep taking this attitude, then nothing will be solved.

Bob Crow needs to have the interests of the people of London in mind when taking such action instead of just expressing the power that his union has. Today will see millions of Londoners cramming onto buses and the few remaining Tube services. Businesses have estimated it will cost the London economy around £50 million. There is still time to call of the next set of strikes.  Let’s hope Bob has a change of spirit.

Ben Callaghan

A Potential Palace of the Past…?

It can be argued that buildings define a people. If Egypt has the pyramids and France has the Palace of Versailles then England has the Palace of Westminster. But as similar as these magnificent structures can be said to be culturally then there is a difference between the first two and Westminster. That being that Westminster is the only one to receive regular use and despite the massive cultural credit that we give it, does it properly serve its purpose. As the image above demonstrates of the 650 MP’s that are elected to these prestigious positions, at one time only 427 of them can be seated.

Following the Second World War Churchill rightly proclaimed that “we shape our buildings, and afterwards out buildings shape us” but this shaping process must be called into question when the buildings can no longer properly serve their purpose. If on a bus or a train only two thirds of the people on board can actually sit down most people would admit that there was a problem, but when it’s one of our most culturally important buildings that serves as the work place of the government of our country, then people seem wilfully blind of the issue.

On the side for tradition and cultural significance Churchill’s words still ring loudly but assuming a transition to a modern building Westminster palace could still be used for events like the Queen’s speech. It would also mean it wouldn’t be damaged as much by tourists and people at work which would allow us to properly completely repair its incredible design and interior.

On the side for modernisation is the argument that the building is no longer fit for purpose, with massive needs for repairs, and that the prestige of British government would receive a boost from a modern building. Why stand up and go to a corridor for a head count when you can just press a button which would speed up proceedings and transparency efforts.

It seems therefore that we can drag this building on life support for however many years but sooner or later this building will effectively rot beyond all use and we can wait until this happens, the Mail will happily cover the front page with a full page of the collapsed building, or we can act now and give the old girl the dignity she deserves.

If our buildings truly shape us then, while remembering the lessons of the past, we must move forward into the new century and the new world unencumbered by the chains that pull us backwards for no other reason than tradition.

Jack Fennell

Hollande is the embodiment of EU ineptitude: Britain must look to Washington, not Brussels, for international support

Europe has had its fair share of political sex scandals, from Silvio Berlusconi’s bunga-bunga parties to the consistent promiscuity of a succession of French Presidents. However, none of these figures have cut a more pathetic figure than the current incumbent of the Elysee Palace, Francois Hollande. Everything about the French President’s affair with actress Julie Gayet has been deeply farcical, from the infamous photos of Mr Hollande on a moped travelling to and from his secretive trysts, to his complaints that the French press were invading his privacy by reporting the affair. All the past few weeks have revealed about Hollande are that he can’t even pull off a sex scandal well.

Since coming to power in 2012, Francois Hollande has systematically trashed France, imposing a crippling form of secular socialism which has won him plenty of enemies, most notably the hierarchy of the French Catholic Church, business leaders and entrepreneurs who don’t share his enthusiasm for a 75% top rate of tax, and his former partner Segolene Royal, the mother of his four children and former Socialist Party presidential candidate. The only prominent supporter of Mr Hollande is our own Ed Miliband, who has declared his intention to emulate Hollande’s style of socialism in Britain if, God forbid, he comes to power in 2015.

Today, Hollande has been engaged in meetings with David Cameron about Britain’s future in the EU, and has declared his opposition to Cameron’s demands for imminent EU treaty changes. This should sound warning bells in the heads of anyone who is sceptical that Britain is getting a good deal out of its relationship with the EU, especially if Cameron’s commitment to a referendum on EU membership is to be believed. The bottom line is, the Eurosocialist elite that run the EU are not interested in treaty changes or reform, they are quite happy continuing to expand the unwieldy bureaucracy which restricts its member states. Hollande is an appropriate representative of EU ineptitude, and it is about time that Britain stops trying to reform a body which is so far beyond reform. We need to free ourselves from this political bondage immediately, and start looking back to Washington for international economic and political support.

George Reeves

Who is allowed to speak?

Maajid Nawaz is a Lib Dem PPC and founder of the anti-Islamist think tank Quilliam.

In this country it seems, sadly, that there is a two tier system for speaking rights. If I want to walk into town, stand on a box and shout that <pick a football team> is terrible, then besides odd looks, I am free to do that. But if I want to make a comment regarding the Islamic prophet Mohammed, then it seems that any comment, other than outright veneration, is inappropriate. This has been a lingering issue but now seems to have taken a strange turn when Maajid Nawaz a Liberal Democrat candidate for Hamstead and Kilburn posted an image of Jesus and Mohammed on twitter. The character of ‘Mo’ simply says “How Ya Doin’?”.

I and I’m sure many others would see this as a simple comment; not offensive in any way, perhaps a positive metaphor for Christian-Islamic relations and representing the hope of a future of understanding among the minority of Muslims who tarnish the name of the non-violent majority. Others apparently would see this simple cartoon as a political and religious warrant for execution. The minority response to this cartoon has been death threats to Mr Nawaz and calls for him to step down as the Liberal Democrat candidate.

While freedom of speech should be limited by the prevention of the publication offensive material, the question that needs asking is; when someone, especially a Muslim makes a comment that is in no way offensive to the Islamic faith or to Mohammed himself then why is he attacked for this? We live in a secular and pluralist society, and with many announcing how offensive this has been to Muslims, perhaps it is worth noting that Jesus was in the image and the corresponding lack of hatred from the Christian community.

While this issue has been useful for generating the debate over; freedom of speech, the rights of people to not be insulted and the position held by some members of the more extreme Islamic community, it would be nice if instead of petitioning for the removal of candidate Nawaz and calling for him to be beheaded they took a more moderated approach of properly explaining why this, apparently neutral, cartoon is so offensive to them.

However regardless of all this it is truly pleasant to see people standing behind someone who has been attacked for no real reason. Many have defended Mr Nawaz over his recent actions including Mr Clegg which demonstrates the attitudes at the heart of British society of tolerance, moderation and plurality.

Jack Fennel

A Muslim Liberal Democrat candidate has revealed he tweeted a cartoon of Muhammad and Jesus because of his desire to speak freely without fearing a charge of blasphemy, even though it prompted death threats and calls for him to stand down.

Maajid Nawaz, who is running to be an MP in Hampstead and Kilburn, said he tweeted the image and stated he did not feel it threatened him in order to defend his religion “against those who have hijacked it because they shout the loudest”.

Eight years on UKIP have done nothing to remove their ‘loonies’ image

Every week we see a new story about the UK Independence Party and the suitability of their candidates. Most recently there was UKIP councillor David Silvester who claimed that David Cameron’s gay marriage legislation led to the devastating floods in the South of England. Last year, we had the memorable comments by Godfrey Bloom MEP (now an Independent) for calling women ‘sluts’ and calling countries that were receiving British foreign aid as ‘Bongo Bongo Land’.

The actions by their members reinforce one point. That they still are ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘loonies’ as David Cameron called them in 2006. We have seen Nigel Farage try to ‘clean’ the UKIP image, most recently through his bizarre UKIP weather forecast on the Daily Politics. He is also promising to vet every MEP candidate thoroughly so they do not repeat the fiasco that followed after the local elections in May last year.

The party’s policies are also unclear after they threw away their 2010 manifesto. Farage (who was not leader in 2010) called it ‘drivel’. However, according to David Campbell Bannerman, who wrote the manifesto, Farage never even bothered to read it. The fact is that apart from proposing that we leave the EU, there seems to be no clear policy that would make them a credible governing party.

It is safe to say that UKIP is a one man party. Without Nigel Farage as their leader, they would still be the party that they were in the 1990s- a small minor party with very little support. Even the founder of UKIP, Alan Sked, has said he is disappointed how the party is now.  After the 2004 European elections , Sked said of the party ‘they are racist and have been infected by the far-right’.

Looking ahead to May, there could be some good news. According to IPSOS MORI research, the British public believe that there is more chance of finding life on Mars than a UKIP victory. Even though it only sampled a small group of people, it shows that the UKIP machine could be rusting away.  Labour is currently leading in the polls for the European elections. But if the economy continues to grow and people begin to see more money in their pocket, anything could happen come May.

If UKIP members keep drawing attention to themselves (which seems very likely), it will not be long before their growing number of supporters will stop taking them seriously. Farage himself is making matters worse recently with his speech that women are less valuable than male colleagues. Eight years on it seems that Cameron’s claims about UKIP were correct.

Ben Callaghan

Labour’s Cost of Incompetence Crisis…

This month’s ONS figures will no doubt make good reading for many a Conservative activist up and down the country. GDP growth is the strongest since 2007, unemployment falling sharply, and inflation has finally hit its 2% target. The sustainability of the returning growth may be in question, but at least from the outside (and particularly to the average voter), Britain’s economic fortunes are on the mend, and with them, the fortunes of the Conservative party.

But for many Labour activists, these figures won’t just simply highlight a short-term setback in the strategic chess game that is Westminster politics, but moreover, a series of increasingly dangerous failings at the heart of their electoral machine. Failings which – at this rate – may see Cameron and Osborne veritably stroll back into Downing Street, rather than face the bitter battle which 2015 has been predicted to become.

What are these failings?

Firstly, and to rather state the obvious, the Labour leadership is weak. Miliband is broadly unpopular, as is Ed Balls, and voters simply do not believe that the party has the metal to take tough decisions on the economy, in stark contrast to the Conservatives. But crucially, after an intensive three-year long campaign to improve Miliband’s image, he has never been seen as a credible Prime Minister by a plurality of the British people; Cameron has consistently trumped him. The ‘Red Ed’, son-of- a-Marxist, Wallace and Gromit image has stuck. And it’s staying.

Secondly, and to state the obvious again, Labour are seriously distrusted over the economy. Even with their new Cost of Living/Cost of Cameron/Cost of Capitalism buzzword offensive, according to a recent ComRes poll for The Independent, more people believe their financial outlook would be better under the Conservatives than under Labour. Which means that critically, Labour are failing to win the battle which they’ve specifically chosen to fight. The collapse of what was once an 11%+ poll lead is thus unsurprising.

So as 2014 begins in earnest, Labour must now consider how to move forward. Continue with the buzzwords and hashtags, desperately hoping that the figures will eventually prove them right? Or take yet a different approach, quietly consigning the ‘cost of living crisis’ to the history text book, along with the emphasis on ‘One Nation’ and ‘Plan B’?

Regardless of the image the party chooses to take, it still faces its own crisis: only 14% of the British public believe that Labour are led by ‘people of real ability’. And until Labour is seen as a party of real economic competence, I shall be betting blue for 2015.

Tom Pike

EU Climate Control – Operation Hair Shirt

Following the devastation of World War Two a small group of people came together and made a simple plan of how to stop Europe from going to war with itself for the third time. The plan was as ingenious as it was sadly flawed. In order to foster closer ties among member states they would simply form a closer economic relationship between themselves … in order to allow for a closer political union. That first bit was genius, why go to war with someone you’re in business with. That second part however has been inflated out of all proportion. An economic union, what is now the EU started as the European Coal and Steel Community, has now become so mutated that it is actually making policies against its initial economic function.

All member states of the European Union must cut Carbon emissions by 40% compared to 1990 levels and the target is to produce 27% of its energy from renewable energy. The good news is that the EU is on course to cut its carbon emissions by 25% by 2020 so it is possible to reach the Carbon reduction plan the not so good news is that as of 2010 we produce 8% of our energy from renewable resources. However is must be noted that Mr Cameron was successful is changing the renewable target from a requirement to a target so hats go off to him.

This new policy is something of a catch 22 for Mr Cameron as it will be derided by many as being an economic noose during this period of low growth while others say that it isn’t enough and that for starters the target should be legally enforced. But as unusual as it may be to suggest, there is one manner that Mr Cameron can use this ugly duckling to his advantage and that is green business. If Mr Cameron can pressure energy companies, research groups (like University’s) and others to put more money and research into green energy solutions and job creation then he can turn this global warming problem into his advantage. I would not be stupid enough to say that this would be easy but if he can do so then re-claim the employment issue and gain credibility on green issues as the man with the solution. Not easy but possible.

Which leaves the last question a simple one. What manner of man is Mr Cameron, a great or ordinary leader because how strong he is coming out of this will be determined by how he responds to an issue that will only get more vocal.

‘Great men are forged in fire, it is the privilege of lesser men* to light the flame’

*Looking at European Commission President Jose Manuel here

Jack Fennell

The Lord Rennard Crisis – A killing blow to Nick Clegg

Nobody really knew how Nick Clegg would cope with his new job in May 2010. They were the days when the Liberal Democrats approval ratings were at  29%. Morale across the entire was party was high as they entered a new age not knowing what to expect. They remained united as they took their seats on the government benches for the first time, worshiping their leader who had performed extremely well in the televised leadership debates just a few months before.

As you know, this united party did not last long. Only until December 2010 when they split over tuition fees, something they promised they would not introduce.  Since then, we have seen the party at the bottom of the polls struggling to gain back the support that they once possessed.

It is the sexual harassment claims of  Lord Rennard , a non-political issue that is currently shredding the Liberal Democrats to pieces, and in particular their once most cherished leader. Younger members of the party are turning against Lord Rennard, former chief-executive of the party, while the people of Rennard’s generation are willing to back him. Their comments however, have not been too helpful with Chris Davies MEP saying ‘This is not Jimmy Saville. This is touching someone’s leg six years ago at a meeting through clothing’. It was not really the best he could say, but he has apologised for his ‘crass’ remarks.

It is Nick Clegg however, who will be hit hardest and there are three factors that make this a very damaging time for him.

First, it has been reported that he knew about certain claims as early as 2008 and Scotland Yard concluded that he should have ordered a formal investigation much sooner than he originally did.

Secondly, Lord Rennard has been the most significant individual in the party in recent years. He has been credited as building the party into that of what we saw at in 2010 – a party that could be a suitable opposition. He was also involved in keeping the Eastleigh constituency in Liberal Democrat hands after Chris Huhne was arrested (this is last time Clegg has spoken to him).

Finally, it has allowed Tim Farron, the party president and Clegg’s most dangerous rival, to attack the party’s handling of the situation and therefore allow him to build up a strong base of supporters for when he runs for the party leadership.

The simple fact is this incident should not have become such a large scale event. It is not a political issue. It is just the failure of Lord Rennard to apologise. Of course, nothing has been proven so it is difficult to ask him to apologise. Instead, a rather insignificant event has thrown the party into a conflict that is significantly weakening the party. With legal action against the party looming, the whole crisis shows that Nick Clegg is unable to control his party. He will remain leader until 2015, but no matter what happens at the general election, he will most likely be ousted.

Ben Callaghan

Britain’s housing crisis, and how the state is causing it.

The Hotel of Mum & Dad could be your perfect holiday destination this decade. Good food, an in-house laundry service, broadly friendly staff, and all at a very affordable rate, if BBC Three is to be believed…

But while this may not always be the case, figures recently released by the Office of National Statistics show that more than 3.3 million persons age 20-34 are choosing to remain living at home with their parents. That’s 26% of the entire age group. And it’s on the rise.

The figures demonstrate a long-term and, until relatively recently, an unmentioned problem developing across the country today: namely, a lack of genuinely affordable housing for our young people.

But the government’s flagship Help to Buy scheme, aimed at addressing the issue, appears to be meeting only with mixed success. While 750 homes have been purchased and 6,000 offers have been made since the scheme was launched last year, average house prices rose 8.4% in 2013 according to a survey by Nationwide, raising fears of a pre-2008 US-style housing bubble amongst commentators. Others have suggested that scheme will likely benefit wealthy investors, but not those who are keen to step onto the property ladder. The government has dismissed the criticism, claiming that 80% of applicants are first-time buyers, and that safeguards exist to guard against any bubbles. Draw your own conclusions.

Labour have hit back, arguing that the government should instead focus on housing construction, and that any future Labour government would commit to the construction of 200,000 new homes per year. It must be said, attempting to increase supply as a means to deflate prices does seem a rather reasonable Labour policy. Except that they’re willing to engage in widespread land seizures if necessary, a policy rather popular with a certain Comrade IV Stalin. He also liked price fixing.

It seems that ultimately, the crux of the problem hasn’t quite been found yet (or rather has been, but is being deliberately ignored) by the major parties. For ultimately, the problem lies with the very strict planning regulations which govern housing developers, and which the Localism Act appears to have failed to relax.

These regulations, which are readily asphyxiating our housing market, are in the direct interests of home owners. Land suitable for building has become extremely difficult for planners to purchase, and that which is available is often so high priced that developers will only construct high-value units upon it. The result: the values of currently owned properties remain high, directly advantaging those who own their own home at the expense of those who don’t.

Well-organised home owners, aware of their potentially high monetary losses as a result of developments, organise and lobby local governments, and coupled with electoral calculus, politicians are keen to block developments in order to retain their seats.

Ideally, a system is needed where development rights reside with small local communities, rather than with councils, who can auction such rights off, profiting from development, and thus be incentivised to encourage development. But in the short-term, serious deregulation of the market is desperately needed, and stimulating demand, nor the seizure of land will solve the problem.

But until we see such liberalisation, we should expect to see more Hotels of Mum & Dad springing up across the country.

Because, yet again, government is the problem, not the solution.

Tom Pike

Europe – Our 2014 Nemesis

Europe: Bane of many a Tory leader…

When Adam Afriyie called for a referendum on Briatin’s membership of the EU in October last year, it was rejected unanimously by the party. It looked good. It appeared that Cameron had satisfied the Eurosceptics within his party by promising a referendum in 2017. For once it looked as if the Conservatives were united on the issue of Europe.  It remained this way with the party pushing James Wharton’s Private Members Bill through the Commons just before the New Year.

It was inevitable that the issue would not disappear from the backbenches of the party.  A group of 95 ‘rebel’ Conservative MPs have broken this so-called truce.  A letter was drafted by Bernard Jenkins, a senior member of the party.  In this letter, they urge Cameron to change the law to give the Commons authority to block new EU legislation. It is also believed that another six MPs, who are in governmental roles, have expressed their support for the demands.

With James Wharton’s Bill being blocked in the House of Lords, Cameron is under intense pressure to tackle the issue of Europe. We are constantly told that he wants to reclaim powers back from Brussels. I agree that it would be dangerous economically to leave the EU, but if these powers are not retrieved soon, then many will lose patience and will vote to leave.

Everybody who is pro-Europe is criticising Cameron’s handling of the situation. His calls for reform from within the EU however, are gaining support.  The vice-president of France’s centre – right party UMP has shown her support for Cameron’s reforms. Rachida Dati, an MEP, has called them ‘bold’ and clearly supports his calls for reform.  This is encouraging. There is no doubt that with the European Elections approaching, we will see more politicians expressing from within the EU a need for some much needed reform.

We all know Cameron wants to stay in the European Union.  As I said above, economically it would be too risky to leave. I hope Cameron will successfully reclaim the powers back from Brussels, but I fear that it something he will not able to do.  Also, with the Bill proposing a referendum in 2017 struggling to make it through the House of Lords, Cameron is now facing some difficult times ahead. As things stand, it could go a lot worse in May with reports saying the party will finish third in the European elections. We need to see some drastic action on Europe.  Conservative backbenchers are getting restless and if nothing is done, the party will be punished in the elections in May.

Ben Callaghan

Could humanity’s success by Earth’s undoing…?

Imagine an island with 10 people. The island has the capacity of water, land and resources to support 100 people. This would mean that these 10 people will be able to live well. Now as long as the population stays below the amount the island can provide then the population will be fine. But when the population gets to 80 there would be concern but most likely little would be done. At 85 there might be some small action like spreading the word and advocating a lower birth rate. Now what would happen when the population got to 90 or 95? People would notice the increasing drain on resources and thus the amount they could expect to receive. At this point lets postulate they all get together and present some possible solutions.

A)     Birth control of one or two children to halt the population growth before bringing it back under control.

B)      Forced suicide of those who are above a certain age, commit crime or show undesirable qualities.

C)      Go to war over ethnicity, diversity of religious or political beliefs etc.

Now this situation assumes two things: 1) that the entire group would come together, agree on a policy and enforce it, and 2) that they hadn’t already exceeded the population.

Now project this to the current world situation. The population has been estimated at over 7 billion with declining resources such as water already affecting up to 2.8 billion people. With the expected population figures expecting 10 billion by 2100 we can assume that this situation will only get worse and with the current international situation we can reliably predict that the chances of all the current national governments getting together and agreeing on something like this is about as likely as Belgium announcing that they just made a real lightsaber (no offence Belgium). At the moment the west are facing few over-population based problems but the issue is how long this will last and when it gets to boiling point what are we prepared to do. China’s solution of controlling the birth rates was deemed as cruel by many but the longer things continue to escalate the more this option becomes the least inhumane.

Frankly I can offer no solution, all I can suggest is that someone needs to start talking about this because if not then Soylent Green might not be as dystopian as we would like.

Jack Fennell

In the Defence of the MP’s Pay Rise

There is never a good time to suggest the idea of a pay rise for MPs.  As I’m sure you can imagine, the 11 per-cent rise proposed by the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (IPSA) has created a storm over Westminster. IPSA ignored the heavy political pressure from July and have decided to make a recommendation to increase the pay of MPs. This rise would add £7,600 to their salary from 2015. So, in 2015 your MP will receive a salary of £74,000.

The media has reacted very strongly against the increase. Newspapers have printed that millions of struggling workers are only getting a 1 per-cent increase and that if politicians accepted the pay rise it would be ‘political suicide’.  Politicians too are vocally against the proposals. Danny Alexander has stated that it would be ‘wholly inappropriate’ to have their salary increased when many workers in the public sector are having their pay frozen.  David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband have also voiced their opposition stating that this is not the time to be discussing the issue.

Is there are argument for there to be a pay rise? I think there is. IPSA was set up following the expenses scandal of 2009. It prime focus was to take the issue of pay out of the Commons.  As Jack Straw has stated, MPs should not complain after giving the responsibility of their salary to an outside body. The deputy speaker, Lindsay Hoyle, also believes that MPs should not vote on their own pay. The IPSA chairman, Sir Ian Kennedy, has said that the increase is ‘fair’ and brings MPs pay to the ‘right’ level.

Under the proposals, the rules of expenses will be refined and MPs will no longer be able to claim for an evening meal. There will also be tighter rules on taxis and hotels. According to IPSA, the changes to expenses will save £178,000 in 2015. The proposals would also create a more transparent House of Commons as annual reports by MPs would also be introduced so their constituents know what they are doing.

The problem for MPs is they are powerless over the decision. They can do nothing to stop IPSA implanting their proposals. They cannot appeal against the decision and they cannot vote to abolish the body. Therefore it seems inevitable that in 2015, they will see their salary increase. However, the proposals are sensible. The whole idea of this proposal is to try to prevent another expenses scandal and therefore allow MPs to gain back the trust of the public. With the election looming, I don’t think any MP really wants to admit that they are in favour of the proposal.

Ben Callaghan

Have we ‘turned a corner’ with China? No we haven’t.

The Prime Minister was hoping for a successful visit to China this week. However, as he hails ‘indispensable’ ties with China, the state media tell him what they think of Britain. It was in the editorial of China’s Global Times, which reflects the mood and opinions of the country’s leadership.  So, according to the leadership we are ‘just an old European country apt for travel and study’.  They’ve also ‘discovered that Britain is easily replaceable in China’s European foreign policy’.

The fact is David Cameron has not been forgiven for his controversial visit to the Dalai Lama last year. Following his visit, relations turned very frosty and an earlier trade delegation was cancelled by Beijing. Earlier this week we were told that Britain has ‘turned a corner’ with China suggesting all was forgiven. But it is clear this is not the case.

What is also clear is that Cameron is afraid of bringing up the issue of human rights. On his trip to Sri Lanka, the Prime Minister openly criticised the regime for their human rights abuses. However, during his visit to China there has been no mention of Tibet or the imprisonment of the Noble Peace Prize Winner, Liu Xiaboo. By mentioning these issues, Cameron could put the trip in jeopardy.  If he brings up the issue in China, the trade deals he is currently negotiating could very likely fall through.

At a press conference, reporters were not allowed to ask questions. Both Premier Li and the Prime Minister read prepared statements and left straight after. When Nick Robinson tried to ask a question he was ignored by both leaders. Did they believe the issue of human rights might be asked that could create an awkward moment? It’s certainly a possibility.

To look on a more positive note, the trip on the whole is looking rather good. According to the Prime Minister, the trip has ‘delivered almost six billion pounds worth of deals’.  There is no denying the economic impact these talks will have, but it seems that there is still some tension between the Prime Minister and China. Cameron seems to be ignoring the comments, instead pointing to positive meeting with Premier Li and President Xi Jinping.  But as Sky’s Asia correspondent has said the ‘editorial in China’s Global Times gives a clear hint about how Mr Cameron has been received in China so far’.

Ben Callaghan

Will we be seen as the ‘nasty country’ of Europe?

David Cameron has announced that migrants from EU countries will be prevented from claiming out-of-work benefits for three months after arriving. Jobseeker’s allowance will also be limited to six months for foreign nationals. It is a package that is aimed at making Britain a less attractive country for would-be benefit claimers, focusing on the tens of thousands of Bulgarians and Romanians who may arrive in Britain at the beginning of next year. So by doing this, will Britain be seen as the ‘nasty country’ of Europe?

David Cameron is challenging one of the main principles of the EU – the free movement of people across EU borders. Because of this, the package is expected to be challenged by the European Commission who says that the free movement of people is Europe’s greatest achievement. In particular heavy criticism has come from László Andor (pictured above), the EU Commissioner for Employment. It was him who has stated that Britain risks itself of being the ‘nasty country’ in Europe. He claims that the Prime Minister is not telling us the ‘full truth’ about immigration. Even though Polish migration had been higher than expected, Mr Andor claims it did not cause harm and it had benefited the UK economy.

To the electorate of this country, it paints a very different picture. It is clear that the people want immigration to be controlled and Cameron himself knows this. To many, this will be very popular. With election getting closer, it is policies such as this one which could have a significant impact.   Despite a lot of criticism, the Prime Minister does seem committed to these plans which could now show that he is beginning to take back powers from Brussels.

Of course whenever an issue such as this arises Nigel Farage is keen to speak to the media. He seems confident that Cameron does not have ‘the guts’ to make such changes. Instead he argued that the Prime Minister was the ‘biggest cheerleader for EU expansion’.  He does agree with Cameron on one thing- that Labour made a ‘monumental mistake’ allowing mass immigration in 2004 when it was predicted only 13,000 Polish migrants would come to Britain.

This measure has already caused controversy in Europe. We don’t know if Cameron will legally be able to introduce this package and if he is successful how effective it will be. Will it please UKIP supporters? Probably not if Nigel Farage keeps telling his followers it is not tough enough. However, it does show that the party are taking a tougher stance against Europe which will probably go down quite well with the electorate.

Ben Callaghan

Scottish Independence – Road map to somewhere…

With the release of the White Paper regarding Scottish Independence it is worth asking the question, is Mr Salmon doing this for political purposes (so he can call himself Prime Minister/ President) or because he actually believes what he is saying. The White paper titled Scotland’s Future: Your Guide to an Independent Scotland, which does not suggest a bias of any kind, was projected as a blue print not just for an independent Scotland but any independent country. It turned out as more of a child’s Christmas list of what Mr Salmon wants but with little to no explanation as to how it will happen.

I have two problems with this. First is a personal let down in the sense that this comprehensive guide (a completely ridicules notion suggesting that Mr Salmon has no understanding of how different two countries can be) cannot claim that it is anything other than a bucket list. This was the SNP’s chance to lay the facts down to educate most people, including myself, who don’t truly understand the many complexities of a country going independent and set the tone of the future debate. Instead we get a political platform of which many suggest a possible wilful misunderstanding of facts which is my second problem. His desire to retain the Bank of England as a lender of last resort for instance. Why would the bank give an independent country a bail out? You have financial control so your problem is your responsibility and your entire financial argument is that you are in a better position to get Scotland out of the financial crisis. The irony is that he seems to want all the benefits of the English system while giving nothing in return. Also on the membership of the EU, Scotland was never a signatory, England signed up to the EU, so Scotland became a de facto member but if they left the UK they would have to re-join to EU. This causing some economic , immigration and legal issues as they would temporarily not be a member. Other wishes of extended social care to infants and giving Scottish citizens a “voice in negotiations on agriculture and fisheries” through direct representation in the EU, now I’m no expert but this raises a question. What’s stopping you from doing that now? You have Members of the European Parliament whose job it is to raise questions that Scottish citizens are concerned of in the European Parliament, like on agriculture and fisheries.

I recognise that you have significant issues on spending and Trident, but if you are going to release a White Paper to begin the formal process of proving your ability to lead your own country to better places and times. Could you please do it in a manner that makes it harder for people to suggest it has too much in common with a child’s Christmas list?

Jack Fennell

Trust in politicians, how we love to hate them.

Politicians are elected as the representatives of the people; they are called public servants for a reason. Every re-election for them is seen as a question of whether we agree with what they have done and what they intend to do. So why is it that when something goes so against the grain, nothing of substance happens. This charming gentleman is Toronto mayor Rob Ford, who ‘allegedly’ was seen smoking cocaine. The MP’s expenses scandal has cost millions and US congressional approval ratings are at 9%.

Every time there is a political scandal politicians will say we’re sorry, we will never do this again. Then turn around and keep going. Mark Sandal is a US Congressman from South Carolina who after having an affair while Governor of South Carolina not only got re-elected to the House of Representatives but also married his mistress. How is it that when politicians fail in their duties as elected officials the national response is always; shock, horror then go and re-elect them. The media will spend plenty of time revealing the juicy details until they all seem to be little more than a Hello magazine and we still re-elect them. In order to be elected normally voters would like an articulate candidate with experience and ability. Usually with no major skeletons in the metaphorical closet but once their elected it seems like they have a free pass. As voters should we not ask for a candidate with higher standards of personal conduct, it’s not as if these people are our representatives on issues of spending, public services and almost all areas of our daily life. Oh wait.

Rob Ford was kind enough to sum this up as “I’m not perfect”; well thank you Captain Obvious, but if an ordinary citizen was filmed smoking cocaine then I would hope that they would be arrested so why is it then politicians get an effective pass. There is a police investigation against him and yet he is still in office (he has had some of his powers taken away from him I’ll admit) but here is the curve-ball a poll of over 1000 random citizens found that his approval ratings had gone from 39% before this to 44%. They went up despite their mayor being an alleged drug user. The next Toronto election is in 2014, worryingly it looks like ‘crack mayor’ will be re-elected.

Jack Fennell

Bercow must rein himself in…


An article earlier this week has stated that John Bercow has degraded the office of Speaker by being too curt and personal as well as showing blatant favouritism. I quite like Bercow but throughout his time as Speaker he has made more enemies than friends.  Now his remaining allies believe that he is putting his own position in jeopardy by showing his dislike for David Cameron and Tory backbenchers.

Bercow is a fantastic speaker when you compare him to his predecessor Michael Martin. Martin was never very effective of getting his voice heard. Bercow on the other hand is much more confident and has the ability to project his voice throughout the Commons. He is very intelligent, witty and a very strong public speaker.

So why is he becoming increasingly unpopular? In his youth, Bercow was on the hard right of the Tory party. Over time he has slowly moved towards the left side of the political spectrum. After Martin’s resignation in 2009, the Conservatives wanted one of their own as Speaker. At this time, Bercow was not one of them anymore.  The Conservatives wanted Sir George Young, but Labour voted for Bercow because he almost one of them. This as you can imagine did not go down well with the party. I’m sure you recall Simon Burns calling him a ‘stupid, sanctimonious dwarf’.

You would think that he may try to fix relations with the party. He however, has not done this.  Earlier this year, he said Philip Hammond had been ‘woefully inadequate’ during a government announcement and during debates he treats many Tory MPs as fools.

Then there are the actions of the infamous Sally Bercow who seems to be using her husband’s job as a way of getting into the spotlight. Events such as the  libel row over Lord McApline , drunkenly balancing a pineapple on her head at the Labour conference and appearing in a picture wearing only a bed sheet with the Houses of Parliament in the background have made Bercow’s job much more difficult and they have damaged the credibility of the Speaker.

Ben Callaghan

The elite which rules our country…

It is not often that John Major speaks out on political issues; despite being the only former Conservative Prime Minister still alive, Major has chosen to largely stay out of politics since his defeat in the 1997 election by Tony Blair. However, he has recently been in the headlines after criticising the elitism at the heart of British politics, pointing out the high concentration of politicians that have been privately educated and come from affluent families. David Cameron and Nick Clegg were both educated at top private schools, Eton and Westminster respectively, whilst Ed Miliband was raised in north London by a prominent Marxist historian. Quite a contrast to John Major’s own working class upbringing; he was raised in a small house in Brixton, and left school aged 16 with only three O-Levels.

It is understandable why Major is concerned. We are constantly being told that we live in an age of social mobility, but yet our political elite seems more like a closed-off network of privilege than ever before. It offers pertinent questions; could a working class lad from Brixton reach Downing Street in today’s political climate? My guess would be it’s possible, but not altogether likely. David Cameron’s personal connections and privileged education were largely responsible for his first job within the Conservative Party, immediately after graduating from Oxford. Against such people, what chance do the John Majors of this world have to break through into mainstream politics? And is there really any wonder that more and more people are choosing not to vote or defecting to smaller parties, out of a general disillusionment with the largely disconnected political elite that currently rules our country?

George Reeves

Hollande – The Most Unpopular Man in France

François Hollande has been officially the most unpopular French President in history for most of this year. His popularity now stands at just 15 per-cent amongst the French public and recent events show that his popularity is not going to improve anytime soon.

Earlier this week he faced a hostile reception when he visited the Tomb of Unknown Soldiers in Paris. He was greeted with boos and whistles from protesters who are angry over soaring taxes. Dozens of protestors took part in chanting ‘ Hollande out! Dictator! We don’t want your laws anymore’. With people disrupting events of remembrance to express their anger, it shows how low Hollande has fallen in recent months. This week people have been protesting in Montpellier over the government’s plans to raise their VAT rate.

Hollande was elected in May last year defeating the incumbent Nicolas Sarkozy who like Hollande was becoming very unpopular with the French people.  However, to the French people who elected him, Mr Hollande controls nothing and does not wield authority of kind at home or on the world stage.  Hollande has faced criticism from the media and the opposition for his consensus- style politics which has led to him being seen as indecisive. His government has been described as being in disarray with in-fighting and many U-turns on certain policies.

One of the biggest challenges Hollande now faces is the European elections in May. With a rise in support for far-right parties in Europe and in particular France, Hollande and his Socialist party will no doubt suffer heavy losses, something which I’m sure he already knows.  The Front National led by Marine Le Pen is expected to receive 25 to 30 per-cent of the vote and she is very confident that they will make a significant impact by stealing many of Mr Hollande’s disillusioned voters on the Left.

It is clear that François Hollande has not been a very effective or successful president. How long could he last as President? He will probably stay until 2017. His job is as safe as the Fifth Constitution allows it to be and there are now provisions to remove a President. He could resign or call an early election, but both these seem very unlikely. Instead, Hollande will try to gain back support quickly in time for May. However, I doubt he will be successful.

Ben Callaghan

The Effect of the Internet Comment Section – Time to take off the Mask

Does alcohol have a similar effect to the internet??? I can hear the denials from where I’m writing already but think about it for a second. Alcohol has the effect of lowering inhibitions and usually results in people having increased confidence and sadly profanity. If you think I’m wrong then check out any tweet from David Cameron , of the 456 tweets he has posted I’ll bet that all of them will include people saying something along the lines of David you’re a <insert swear word of your choice here>.

Why is it that when people are online they feel that they have a mask and can say what they want? Most people wouldn’t walk up to someone in the street and start swearing at them (I hope) so why is it that when people are online what is allowed or accepted seems to be different from real life? When I’m talking to someone face to face if I disagree with them then I would explain why, without swearing. So why is it that in a comment section it seems to be okay to swear worse than a sailor with no consequences? But what I find most ironic about the comment section magic isn’t the alcohol effect, but what I will dub the YW effect.

By this I mean the “you’re wrong” crowd. Before I explain this, let me say that I have no problem with people that disagree with me. In fact I love debating over almost any issue but when people say you’re wrong … with no other reason, explanation or basis for their claim I do have to ask the question of how? Prove me factually wrong or looking at the wrong information or something but just saying that I or any other person is just wrong doesn’t prove anything, all it does is state your opinion so why not explain to everyone else why you think the way you do. So here’s a game for you to play; if you think that I or someone else is wrong, then explain the basis of your reasoning and I’ll be happy to discuss it with you or maybe I’ll even agree with you. It is the least you can do if you hold such a strong opinion on something that you have read all of this.

Oh and one last thing for you to bear in mind, if after reading this you scroll down to the comment section and post something along the lines of say .. Jack you are a <insult>,  your wrong. I thank you for proving my point.

Jack Fennell

The Republicans have their man for 2016

The Republican’s quest for a likable political star could now be over. The party have struggled to find anybody to rival the likes of Barack Obama and Bill Clinton in terms of popularity but now they may have found their man. That man is Chris Christie, who has just been re-elected to a second term as governor of New Jersey.

What makes him special is he is a Republican who Democrats can vote for. He won the state that voted 58.4 per-cent to re-elect President Obama with 60 per-cent of the vote. In his re-election he got 56 per-cent of the votes of women, even though his opponent, Barbara Buono, was female. He also won 48 per-cent of Hispanic voters and 20 per-cent of African- Americans, more than doubling his 9 per-cent he won in 2009. These are the groups that in the last two presidential elections the Republicans have failed to get the support of.

Republicans have got every right to be excited over these results which could make Mr Christie a leading contender in the Republicans 2016 race. Last year, his national reputation was boosted by the events of Hurricane Sandy which smashed into the Jersey shore just days before the Presidential election, even though his support for President Obama cost him credibility among people in his own party. But is does show that he can work with politicians from other parties and he has the support of many Democrats. Brian Stack, one local Democrat mayor in New Jersey openly supported Christie. As we have seen in the past month, support amongst both parties is crucial and this could also be another factor in support of Christie. Nobody in America would want to see another shutdown.

If Christie does decided to run in 2016, he will face opposition from the right of the party, most notably the Tea Party. He is labelled as a ‘moderate’ by the right, a claim he denies. ‘I’ve governed conservatively’ he responds. It is clear that if he does run, he will not follow Mitt Romney’s strategy by tackling the right to win a Republican Primary and then quickly try to move back the centre.

His unique persona – ‘a blend of cuddly father figure and irascible tough guy’- could also help him. However, he will face heavy opposition. But he is an ideal candidate for the party which has failed to attract women and minority voters. Because of this, he seems to be the best bet the Republicans have of obtaining the presidency in 2016.

Ben Callaghan

What is the value of a British solider’s life?

Remember the that image; it’s a composite image of the first 100 soldiers that had died in Afghanistan by June 2008. It was big news but how many can say what the current total is; the most recent death brings the number to 446 since 2001. That’s 446 people who will never have one more drink, go out with friends or see their homes and 446 families that have lost a child, parent or loved one. The flip side of this is of course what they have manage to achieve; the removal of an extremist government, installed a democratic government and provided some stability to the region but despite the peacekeeping efforts of UN forces tens of thousands of Afghan civilians have died. With a backdrop of troop removal, is it time to ask, was it worth it.

We went in to get Osama Bin Laden and overthrow the Taliban government that was fostering Al-Qaeda, and I would agree that we achieved that but the loss of life and the injuries suffered by British troops do beg the question of whether it was actually worth it. 446 lives to kill one man and overthrow a government. Al-Qaeda is an ideological based organisation that isn’t shackled to a landmass hence why when the US invaded in 2001 Osama moved across a border and it took us a decade to find him. Putting the military objectives and achievements issues aside is 446 people a price that we are prepared to pay for this. Why is it that all these people die and it almost seems that because they are soldiers that, that somehow makes it alright? Let’s say that a new disease kills 400 this winter (think of the recent Measles outbreak) and how much media coverage that would get so why isn’t it the same with the death of a soldier.

The value of a soldier is being at least understood by politicians where the government is facing criticism for not being more involved in Syria. This policy at least will prevent more British troops from losing their lives and more coffins being flown home. The objectives of the Afghan war against the loss of life is one question but at its heart is a more pressing matter. What do we define as an acceptable gain to sacrifice the lives of a hundred, ten or one life? Let’s say that Osama didn’t die until a thousand British troops had died would we still think it was worth it. In comparison to the world wars or previous conflicts these figures may seem low but in an age of Human Rights and the value placed on a human life what value do we place on the life of someone who risks their life in the name of the freedom, prosperity and peace that we enjoy and frankly take for granted?

Jack Fennell

Putin is now number one – a sign of Obama’s weak leadership

Since the Cold War, the term ‘The most powerful man in the world’ has always been associated with US Presidents. But now is there a shift in international politics?

It may be looking that way as Barack Obama has suffered a major blow after he lost his top spot on Forbes list of the most powerful people in the world. To make it even worse, he has been replaced with Russian President Vladimir Putin. So why does Mr Putin take the top spot? Well according to the magazine it is ‘because he so frequently shows his strength at home and the global stage’ citing in particular Putin’s actions over Edward Snowdon and his involvement with the Syrian crisis.

While this is just a list in a magazine, it is not good news for President Obama. It is the first time in three years that he has dropped to second place on the Forbes list. He has looked weak during the 16 day US government shutdown caused by a budget and debt crisis in Washington. He has been described as being very analytical but at the same time showing no real leadership. Compare this to President Putin who has dominated Russian politics for the last 12 years and it could become clear why Obama’s reputation on the world stage is deteriorating.

Obama in theory does have more projectable power at his disposal than Mr Putin but it is clear that on many occasions, he has failed to wield it. This was seen in Syria. It was Putin leading the way during the negotiations. Obama on the other hand, spent two years ignoring allies and advisors and when Congress and the American people refused to offer him their support, he was unsure what to do. Putin was always in control, especially when adverting Obama’s threatened missile strikes on Syria with a plan for Damascus to hand over their chemical weapons.

President Putin is of course a very controversial figure. His controversial re-election in March 2012 and his beliefs on gay marriage have sparked debate across the world. But there is no denying that when it comes to power he knows how to wield it. He is seen as a ‘rascal’ and ‘strongman’ and for the last five years, he has been unchecked by the US and he has become much more powerful and influential because of it. With Xi Jinping, General Secretary of China’s Communist Party jumping up to third place, Obama has got to significantly improve his leadership to be regarded as one of the most powerful people in the world.

Ben Callaghan

The Great Energy Swindle

You are being ripped off with your energy bills, but by Government, not the energy companies. (Though the later aren’t exactly playing nice either!)

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The Government takes more in tax from your energy bills than the energy companies take in profit. On average 3.6% of your gas and electricity bill will go in profit to the Big 6 energy companies, while 11% for gas and 16% for electricity will go to the Government in taxation. This means energy taxes cost the average family (or student house..) around £200 a year.

A proportion of these (~9%) are the so called ‘Green Taxes’ which of course are not green at all. They do almost nothing to help the environment –  reduction in energy consumption caused by people no longer being able to afford to heat their homes is something I think we can all agree that is not a price worth paying. Of course some will say “oh, but the money is used to fund green jobs and investment etc”. Not really. Just like other taxation most is just swallowed up into the colossal black hole that is Government finances, and when funds are used to subsidise cavity wall insulation or whatnot remember that it was the poor bugger struggling to pay his bills who was forced to pay for it! We are not going to counter climate change off the backs of the poorest.

It’s not just your household energy bills either. When you fill up your car at the petrol station, how much of the final amount you pay do you think is tax? 10%? 20? 30? Nope. It’s a whopping 60%. That means when you fill your car up with £30, only £12 of that is actually going towards the fuel, the rest goes straight to the taxman. It’s a scandal, but one we seem to be overlooking.

And this is all set to get worse, as environmental lobbyists and EU regulation mean green taxes are set to soar in the future.

Yesterday, Labour Lords were only narrowly defeated on the 2030 decarbonisation target plans to add ANOTHER £125 in taxes to your bills.

Thankfully there is a welcoming sign emerging from the depths of Westminster – David Cameron has hinted that he intends to reduce energy taxes in response to Ed Milliband’s promise to freeze bills. Cameron should go the whole way and zero rate all energy from taxes.

So as we all jump on the Big 6 bashing band wagon, lets just remember who really drives up our bills.

Russell Brand: the left’s least convincing prophet

The revolution is coming. It’s leader? Actor and comedian Russell Brand. For those fortunate enough not to know who Brand is, he’s the one that looks like a tramp and is most famous for his past drug addictions, his year-long marriage to singer Katy Perry, and for boasting about his sexual exploits on Piers Morgan’s chat show. Oh, and he also lost his job with the BBC after prank-calling an elderly actor to boast of having had sex with his granddaughter. But for some reason, Brand now wants to reinvent himself as a socialist revolutionary; the question is, why are we letting him?

Russell Brand is very good at coming across as charming and articulate; even though he looks ridiculous and rants idealistically about the certainty of revolution, he has the comedian’s skill of making even Jeremy Paxman laugh in the process. But despite his use of long words and mock outrage, Brand’s hypocrisy and crassness cannot be missed. For a man who takes great pride in standing outside the political arena and telling teenagers not to vote, he is strangely comfortable being the guest editor of a prominent political magazine and being interviewed in a plush hotel room for the BBC’s flagship current affairs programme. In addition, he constantly ducked Paxman’s questions over what alternative system he would propose to replace Western capitalist democracy, thereby proving that behind the self-serving rhetoric he lacks any real substance. Hardly surprising really for a man who also blames his previous drug addiction on the current political system.

The areas of complaint against the political class that Brand highlights are the usual socialist trigger-issues; the environment, the class system, welfare and globalisation. In calling for a ‘socialist egalitarian system’ where profit is seen as a filthy word and corporations are taxed out of Britain, Brand merely repeats the doomed message of generations of misguided left-wingers across the world. It is a message you will find in Britain today from small, ultra-left political parties and militant trade unionists; the only difference with Brand is that he makes these views seem glamorous. The sad fact is that people are listening.

George Reeves

Why are you tapping my phone…?

The White House is now involved in a major diplomatic incident after the German government said that it had received information that US spies may have tapped Angela Merkel’s personal mobile phone for a number of years. Angela Merkel is now demanding answers from President Obama who assured Ms Merkel that she is not under surveillance from the US government. The President promised her that US intelligence ‘is not monitoring and will not monitor’ her communications.  But this has not satisfied many Germans. One German source has said ‘They speak only about the present and the future- we “are not” monitoring and we “will not” monitor, but not about the past’. The Germans are therefore concluding that Ms Merkel may have been spied on in the past but the White House is making no comment on these allegations.

The fact that such an inquiry was made to the American President shows how far the trust between the two countries has broken down. This is also is not the first incident in which America has been accused of spying on their allies.  In France Le Monde claimed that the US National Security Agency  was collecting millions of records of French telephone calls. Of course these incidents are not going to be helpful at a time when relations between Europe and the US are weakening and it does not seem that this matter is going to disappear. It is believed that President Hollande is place the issue of US bugging on the agenda at the next European Union summit.

So can relations between Europe and the US be fixed quickly? One of Mrs Merkel’s closest advisors has stated that the Americans  ‘are’ and ‘remain’ our best friends but he also added that Europe cannot return to ‘business as usual’ with its relationship to Washington. There are also claims that Europe does not want this to be a long-lasting rift because of trade. With the Americans and Europe discussing a free trade deal with huge benefits to both sides, neither would want this incident to jeopardise it. Therefore, the future is unclear. But what is clear is that these revelations have done damage. With France and Germany, the two most influential countries in Europe not letting this pass, it shows that we might have to wait rather a long time for relations to be fixed.

Ben Callaghan

The Threat of UKIP, and why you shouldn’t be paying attention…

Empires rise and fall; political parties have moments of dominance and ideology swings right and left. It can be said that right now there is a swinging to the right of the political pendulum that can be seen in; America with the Tea Party, Greece with Golden Dawn and finally in the UK with UKIP.

Many are right now looking at the above man and saying that he is a serious threat to the Conservative Party. Look again, the Conservative party is being labelled as a group of Etonian rich boys and this is how you want to solve that image with another public school educated rich boy. But before we get into why they aren’t a threat lets lay down two rules (1) For the sake of argument let’s not accuse them of being racist and (2) no personal attacks (from now on). Their policies however are fair game.

So let’s start with the most important plank of any agenda, the economy.  At a time when the Conservative party has reduced the deficit by a third; UKIP has no specific plan (feel free to check their website) with regards to the economy other than reduce taxes. At a time when we still have a huge deficit to solve this party would reduce government income? I have respect for anyone prepared to argue on political issues but when your aiming to run the government I’d expect a plan with more detail than general promises and policies that could have been copied from Wikipedia. In America the Tea party ran on a tax reduction and power back to the people platform. They then proceeded to hold the government hostage over the budget almost causing a financial meltdown because they weren’t prepared to do that disgusting thing often referred to, as govern sensibly.

During the 2010 US Congressional elections, Tea party affiliated politicians won 40 seats in the House but fast forward to the 2012 US Presidential elections where they lost 20% of those seats. With the ‘success’ of the Government shutdown for the Tea Party further losing them popular support it can only be said that they peaked and are on their way out of politics. Now turn the camera back to UKIP, a party with a narrow policy range of anti-Europe and Immigration ideas and play the worst case scenario game.

They gain more seats in the European Parliament and maybe get a seat in the Commons before voters realise that they are a fringe movement with little to say on the majority of government issues, losing popular support they lose their Commons seat at the following elections with support going back to Cameron while at the European Parliament they only give Cameron more weight in getting powers back to Westminster and reducing European spending. In other words if Cameron shows leadership ability, UKIP flames out after helping push through what he wants anyway. Win for Cameron, loss for UKIP.

Jack Fennell

After Plebgate, can we really trust the police?

It’s been over a year since former Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell lost his job over allegations that he verbally abused police officers at the gates of Downing Street, and three of the officers involved have finally issued a public apology for briefing the press with distorted versions of the story. It is now clear that whilst Mitchell’s choice of language may not have been appropriate, he did not describe police officers as ‘plebs,’ the phrase which the entire story has been centred around.

I strenuously believe that Mitchell, who had served in the cabinet since the 2010 election and is also Birmingham’s only Conservative MP, should instantly be given his old job back now that it is apparent that the reasons given for his dismissal were based on lies. However, I also believe this matter goes way beyond issues of politics, regardless of how important those issues are. The real question we must ask in the wake of this scandal is whether we can ever trust the police again.

If police officers have the power to successfully frame a senior politician and to destroy his career, then what can they do to the lives of ordinary citizens? I am no libertarian, as I believe that if individuals have nothing to hide, then they have nothing to fear – or so it should be. But if the very people who are meant to enforce the law can also conspire against an innocent man, then this principle no longer stands. The Plebgate scandal is just the latest incident of police corruption, and outside of the Conservative Party few people are concerned about the career prospects of yet another senior politician. But when it comes to police cover-ups over the Hillsborough disaster, or the ongoing matter of racial profiling, people suddenly start to pay attention to this deeply sinister issue. They realise that it is not just Tory MPs who can fall foul of police corruption, but ordinary men and women like you and me. Therefore, David Cameron should not only give Andrew Mitchell his job back, but he should also announce a full inquest into the workings of the police force, so that citizens can feel safe in the knowledge that the police are to be trusted rather than feared.

George Reeves

The Ugly Rise of Europe’s Far-Right

In a by-election in Brignoles, a south-eastern town in France, the far-right Front National (FN) led by Marine Le Pen won with 53.9% of the vote. A poll commissioned by a French news magazine asking French voters how they will cast their ballots in next year’s European elections shows the Front National on top with twenty-four per cent of the vote. A pollster has commented that ‘For the first time in a poll on voting intentions in an election of a national character, the FN is clearly ahead’.  The support for Front National is also mirrored in other European countries.  The far-right in Austria, Bulgaria, Poland and Austria are also high in the opinion polls with the Neo-Nazi party Golden Dawn now being the third biggest party in Greece. This therefore, is a very worrying time in European politics. In the months leading up to the 2014 European elections, immigration will be the most important factor and therefore at the heart of European politics.

How can Europe tackle this serious problem?  What many officials do not want to acknowledge is that the civil war in Syria will heavily impact Europe. Thousands of people from Syria and other unstable African countries look at Europe as a way of escaping the conflicts in their own country.  As a BBC journalist says ‘Whatever Europe decides it is clear that a significant number of desperate people will risk everything to come to Europe. They will not be deterred’.  It shows therefore, that there are no easy options tackle the issue. There have been rumours that Le Pen is in talks with Geert Wilder, a far-right politician from the Netherlands to form a far-right group within the European Parliament. Even the more moderate politicians in Europe fear the rising support for these parties. The Italian Prime Minister Enrico Letta has said that ‘the most anti-European Parliament ever’ could emerge from May’s elections.

However, there could be some slightly positive news. Analysts have argued that the Front National victory in Brignoles was simply a protest vote against the two main parties and that there is no reflection of deepening support for the far-right. Despite this, politicians from the moderate parties across Europe are going to have to quickly win back support before May 2014. If they fail, the far-right could make more dangerous gains across the whole of Europe.

Ben Callaghan

A Victory for Common Sense or a Breach of Human Rights???

The recent Supreme Court decision over whether prisoners can vote can be seen as another battle with the European Union over the British legal system. The Supreme Court have rejected the appeals of both Peter Chester and George McGeoch who argued that their right of access to elections under Protocol 1 Article 3 of the European Convention of Human Rights was violated by Section 3 of the Representation of the People Act 1983 which prevents a convicted person from voting in any local or Parliamentary elections.

At a recent Yougov poll 63% of people asked responded that No prisoners should be allowed to vote at elections which shows a willingness among the British people to ignore the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) who decided in a previous case that the Representation of the People Act was in contradiction with the Human Rights convention. David Cameron has firmly put himself against the ECHR by saying that the idea of giving prisoners the vote makes him sick.

It must seem strange to some that it is or might be possible to be deprived of ones liberty for crimes against the state but still retain the right to vote and to decide the laws that imprison them. However what must be noted is that the European Court of Human Rights said that only a blanket ban would be against EU law and therefore that it was possible to ban some (just not all) prisoners. This leads to the question of where to draw the line and how. Should crimes be specified as to which would deprive someone the right to vote or should it be determined by the sentence length. People who hears this will have their own view as to prison voting rights but of the instances below where would you draw the line and deprive them of the right to vote;

A)     Someone who was convicted for life for raping and murdering a young woman.

B)      A drug addict who has been sentenced for 5 years for possession of Amphetamines, a B class drug. Has previous drug use background

C)      A woman sentenced for 6 months for drink driving

To some people, such as the Prison Reform Trust, we must take a similar stance to South Africa who do not place any such restrictions on prisoners right to vote while others; including some MP’s are in favour of a threshold of either six months or four years, above which a convicted person would be unable to vote during the time of imprisonment.

This is something will return to the headlines as Britain is in direct contradiction with the ECHR over this issue but still has the support of the voters and a Prime Minister willing to fight over the issue. The question of when or what will cause you to lose your right to vote is an issue that will be seen by many, on both sides of the issue, as a moral question that needs to be solved.

Jack Fennell

Onwards & upwards for BUCF blog

As we approach our 500,000th view and 5000th comment, BUCF are kickstarting the blogging campaign again. With a new blogging team headed by Campaigning Officer Tom Pike, the aim is to get a blog post up every day – starting next week.

From commentary on world events, domestic politics and policy to adverts and reviews for our events it will be the one stop shop for all things BUCF. 

Check back regularly to have a read, and please share! 

If you would like to contribute too to the blog then get in touch with Tom, or comment on this post. 

Afriyie’s call for an early EU vote has severely weakened his standing in the party

AlfAdam Afriyie has become more well-known in this past year. He has been labelled as the Tories’ Barack Obama (mainly by his friends) and the media has stated that he was ‘being groomed to replace party leader David Cameron’.  He was also included in a list of possible future party leaders by Nadine Dorries. Now, the Conservative MP for Windsor has called for a referendum on Britain’s membership of the EU to be held in October 2014 instead of the date the Conservatives promised in 2017. ‘I’ve had struggle with my conscience over this one’ he declared. ‘I’ll not be able to sleep at night’.

‘I don’t want to cause any trouble’ claimed Afriyie following his comments. Luckily, he hasn’t caused any trouble within the party. Instead, he has caused trouble for himself. Every time the issue of Europe is mentioned within the party, divisions quickly emerge. This time however, it has not happened. It was not long after his challenge that some of the most Eurosceptic MP’s in the Conservative Party pleaded with him to reconsider his stance. This left him alone in the party with his only vocal supporter being Labour MP Tom Watson. By doing this, Afriyie hoped to show his party that he is a leader, but instead it backfired.  With no support from his own party, there is no doubt that his comments were a serious mistake.

He has always denied wanting the job of party leader saying rumours of his ambition was ‘media tittle-tattle’. With no support from the party for wanting a referendum it is probably quite re-assuring that he does not want the job. Even if he did it’s looking pretty unlikely. Conservative MP Andrew Griffiths joked about Afriyie’s ambitions when he tweeted: ‘Dear Adam Afriyie on behalf of Tory MPs in marginal seats everywhere, we know how much you want to be leader. But please! Just stop!’ By trying to be a hero for the eighty per-cent of people who want a referendum, Afriyie may have just sabotaged his own future career within the party.

If Afriyie’s challenge was successful it could have easily brought the party back into disarray over Europe. Thankfully, Cameron has united the party and for once they are agreed over one of its most key issues.

Ben Callaghan

Syria – A World First

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In a country that until recently was unknown to many, a world first is occurring. That is the disposal of chemical weapons during an on-going civil war! It is alleged, by the West, that on 21st August outside the Ghouta area of Damascus the chemical agent Sarin was used to kill hundreds of people.

With the American governments “red line” having been breached but unwilling to enter into another situation like Iraq a deal was struck with Russia (a major supporter of Syria) on 14th September to destroy Syria’s chemical weapon stocks by mid-2014. This tall order is complicated by some small issues. First it is believed by some that Syria has the largest chemical weapon stockpiles in the world (according to Israel), secondly is that Syria in the “comprehensive” listing it provided under the US-Russia deal of its chemical weapon facilities, munitions and agents has provided details which according to some Western intelligence is below the believed amount Syria possesses though it must be noted that this is an improvement of its previous denial of having chemical weapons at all. And finally this difficult destruction of deadly agents will almost certainly happen in a war zone. Since 2011 when the civil war began with the rebels aiming to oust President Bashar al-Assad and the Ba’ath Party over 100,000 people have been killed and millions have fled the country.

The group dealing with this is the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) and at the risk of making light of a damning conflict with dire repercussions for millions of people. How many people in the OPCW just called in sick? The situation in Syria is appalling with little end in sight and no consensus or even hashed out idea of what to do next. The only plan the west has is to not get involved and assuming the destruction of the chemical weapons works properly; the civil war will still be going on. At a time when America has a small financial problem and Britain has decided to look the other way there is no one prepared or able to step up.

The Syrian question is complex and appears to have no winner whatever decision is made. But what is beyond doubt is that the longer this goes on, the more the Syrian people will continue to suffer with little to nothing being done to help.

Jack Fennell