Snap Election: Vote Wisely

The UK’s current Prime Minister, Theresa May, has just announced plans to call a General Election on June 8th. Primarily claiming Brexit as the reason, this puts a bit of a slant on how to consider one’s voting.

I know there are people who will say “Don’t Vote Tory” and leave it at that. Personally, I think that’s how we got saddled with a Conservative Government in 2015, even though there was a strong anti-Tory sentiment. The Conservative Party got just over a third of the votes, at 36.9%. The remaining two thirds, though, was incredibly fragmented. And this is what I think a lot of the media speculators and unsure voters forgot to take into account. It wasn’t enough for “Not Tory” to be the majority, not if they still got the lion’s share of the votes. And people holding off on voting before they weren’t sure if their vote really mattered… well it could have.

Ono top of that, I think there are those who were put off from voting Labour because Ed Milliband seemed to lack charisma. Or who were out off voting Liberal Democrat because they got sort of scapegoated for decisions they made as the minority group of a Coalition Government when doing otherwise may have risked making things fall apart.

I think this time around, there are a few important things that people have to keep in mind when casting their vote.
The stakes are higher than in a usual General Election so the usual criteria have a few extras added into the mix.

Does Your Party Share Your Brexit Viewpoint?

Whoever is in charge is likely to be the main steering force during the next couple of years. It doesn’t matter when you want Hard Brexit, Soft Brexit, No Brexit or Liquid Brexit, you probably want to vote for a party that shares your viewpoint. The next couple of years are what’s going to shape the UK’s longer term future. Whether or not “your team wins” for the next four years is secondary to how your country fares for the next several decades.

What About Your Local Candidates?

I’ve maintained for a long time that what causes your local candidates stand for should be taken into account as much, if not more, that Party Loyalty. This is true now more than ever. If anything Brexit-related is put to Parliamentary vote, your MP is going to be voting on your behalf.
So like choosing a party above, choosing a candidate should at least have some thought put towards which local option is closest to your viewpoint on Brexit. Otherwise you really are just voting against you own best interests.

If You Can, Vote!

Make your voice heard. Even if you think the best option is merely “lesser of the evils”, do you really want to sit by and risk the greater evil winning?

Remember, a vote that isn’t cast for anybody also isn’t cast against anybody.

And if you’re young and a first-time voter (and reading the online wittering of a middle-aged bloke for some reason), don’t be put off voting. Your generation may well be much more affected by things done by the next Government than my generation or that of my parents. 

Forget Personality Politics

So, the candidate your considering voting for has either the party or personal alignment that most interests you but you really don’t like the current leader. Do you vote for someone else or choose to abstain?
This time, I’d caution against it. Again, this is bigger than just who’s the Government or Prime Minister for the next few years. This is down to whether you trust your MP or the Government to handle Brexit the way you want. If you vote against your preference just because you don’t like a certain politician, this will be counter-productive.

TL;DR

We’re on the Good Ship Brexit and we’re about to vote in our Captain and Crew. Regardless of where else they take us, you probably want to make sure that this particular trip is to your taste.

Vote wisely!

UK Labour Party: Crisis or Identity Crisis

There is a lot of talk at the moment about whether or not the Labour Party is in crisis.
and, if so, whether it is being caused by their current leader, Jeremy Corbyn.

I think that the (Parliamentary) Labour Party is looking at it the wrong way. There is a crisis or, at least, and identity crisis. I don’t think that Mr Corbyn is the trigger for it, though. If anything, his rise to leadership and the tensions it has brought are just symptoms of an issue that was already there.

The PLP appears to worry about being seen as too “left wing” and have concerns about being electable. As I mentioned in a previous blog, this isn’t all there is to being the major non-government party. They are the official Opposition Party. This has responsibilities that cover the current period following the previous election. Looking solely towards what kind of a government they would be in an election that isn’t even scheduled until 2020 is very little use in 2016.
If another General Election was called then this would be a different matter. But until such a time, they have to at least put some priority into being the Current Opposition rather than a Future Potential Government.

This is where, I think, the focus on being seen as moderate as opposed to left-wing starts to go a little off target.

Basically, it’s a lot harder to balance from the middle. And if you’re trying to seek a compromise, giving ground from the start isn’t useful. It feels too much like what Labour wants to be is the party that stands from the compromise position. But when you give ground form that position, you don’t get compromise. You become compromised.

Where the New/Blairite/Moderate Labour wants to be isn’t necessarily a bad place. It’s just that it’s more like the end position after a reasonable discussion and compromise. It’s not a good position to counter from.

The term “Red Tories” gets thrown about towards the main Labour Party. Although I think that’s going a bit far, I see where it comes from. The current political parties feel like “Variations on a Theme”.
Take McDonalds and Burger King. Both have their own style but both are fast-food burger joints. Then you get higher-end places like the Gourmet Burger Kitchen. Even then, though, it’s still just three different takes on “Burger, Fries and a Milkshake”. When sometimes, as a customer, what you really want is pizza and a coke. Or roast dinner and a beer.

Jeremy Corbyn’s take on Labour leadership is something different. It’s not the same old same old. He appeals to people otherwise disenfranchised with Politics. This is a problem with politics/politicians in general, not with Mr Corbyn. If a split is occurring, it started ahead of this. Jeremy Corbyn’s rise to power, despite the direction of the PLP, is a symptom of the cracks, not their cause. I don’t even believe in everything he stands for but I find him a very refreshing change to politics. And where I disagree with him, I still think he helps give a more rounded overall view to a discussion.

Parliamentary Labour want to chase people already catered for by politicians. Jeremy Corbyn represent a segment of the public who are used to (and sick of) being overlooked by Big Politics.

And this is where I think the PLP is risking a misstep. There’s a large section of their newer membership who, otherwise, probably wouldn’t give a damn about politics. Because, all too often, they feel like politics doesn’t give a damn about them. Finally it seems like someone actually wants to stand for them… and the Party just wants to ignore them as if their voice and opinions don’t matter.
And this is a Party that, still, claims to be “For the People”.

The “right kind of people” only, it seems.

Why I Voted to #REMAIN

So, I’ve just cast my vote in the EU Referendum. I’ve voted to Remain. In some ways, to me, it’s an obvious choice. Some of my reasons are political, some personal. They’re all long-term, though.

In or Out, the UK has problems. In or Out, the EU has problems. Remain or Leave, those problems won’t vanish overnight.

In my mind, a vote to Remain isn’t automatically agreeing with everything the EU stands for right now. It’s also not assuming that the EU can or will always act in the UK’s best interests.

Similarly, I don’t buy that a vote to Leave is a racist or jingoistic response.

There are short-sighted, short-term and selfish reasons to vote in either direction. There are plenty of spokespeople on each side of the debate whose arguments are based on those very reasons. Yes, it’s easy to point out pro-Leave supporters who have one or more or those traits but there are too many pro-Remain supporters with them as well.

I’m 39 years old. Not that old, not that young. I’ve seen quite a lot of change in my lifetime. This is not the world of my childhood. The fact that I’m writing something that could easily be read by someone almost anywhere in the world within minutes of me posting it and agreeing/disagreeing/arguing with me almost immediately it proof of that.

In some ways, the world has shrunk and borders have become less relevant. They still matter, but in a different way than they once did. I see them more like the lines in artwork. They don’t have to keep regions totally separate. You can draw something and colour totally within the lines and it work to enhance the big picture.
They can give shape, not separation.

Instead, too many people see borders as push-up bras. Lift into view and separate out. “We’re better than you!”

I know there are some who are voting Leave because they think the UK is better off fending for itself. There are some who are voting Remain mainly because of what the UK can get out of the EU, as opposed to what we can help put into it.

To me, though, the EU is about being a part of something bigger. Having our own identity yet feeding into and feeding from a greater overall entity. Working together with other countries and cultures. Learning how we can be better. Helping those who need it. And everyone banding together when it all goes pear-shaped.

Since I first really heard about the EU as a kid in the late 1980s, it always seemed so full of potential to me. I don’t think it has currently reached anywhere near its potential but that potential is still there. And it’s a potential the whole world needs. Cooperation instead of Conflict.

And that’s why I voted Remain.

I believe in working towards a world where maybe we can work through our differences. Remaining in the EU might help achieve that. Leaving the EU would be a step away from that dream. To be fair, I don’t think it would be a permanent one. But it would be more of a significant step during my lifetime. And if people are going to vote in either direction for selfish reasons, my Selfish Reason is that I want to see the world become slightly less crappy before I die. I want to see it in my lifetime, dammit!

The EU’s like a family. Families don’t always get along well. And even the ones that do, some achieve that with distance. I don’t have any family members “just down the road”. Even my immediate family, my parents and my brother’s family, are an hour’s drive away each. I’ve not live with my parents for a decade, and not lived with my brother for two.
I couldn’t live with them again easily. But they’re still my family. They’ve been there for me when i needed it. i try to be there for them when they need it. It’s what family do.

Family also squabble. The stereotypical Family Christmas is everyone getting a bit tipsy and having an argument over the dinner table. Well, that’s what the EU is for. It’s the dinner table we all argue around.

And those arguments are why we’ve not had a major punchup in the metaphorical pub car park since World War II.

The EU is far from perfect. But thats no reason to leave. All we’d be doing would be putting up higher walls and sending a signal out to the rest of the world that looking after your own interests first-and-foremore is all that matters.

The dinner table would break up. Arguments would escalate. And the next punchup would be waiting in the car park.

And that isn’t something I want to see in my lifetime. (Or anyone else’s to be fair.)

Why Assange Should Face Charges

This whole Julian Assange situation is one big political minefield, no doubt about it. It is unfortunate, for him at least, that there are multiple things at stake and one of them is big enough that maybe it shouldn’t be sacrificed for his political beliefs.

It all comes down to the rape allegations. It’s also related to, but independent of, whether or not the allegations are true. And this is where it gets messy. Assange is, quite understandably, worried that Sweden would use his arrest there as a pretext to extradite him to the United States over the whole Wikileaks situation.
Here’s the problem. People cannot be treated as “too important” to face rape charges. The disturbing amount of former celebrities now recognised as sex offenders should have taught us that by now.

There are those who, having read up on the public details on the allegation, think that he is basically being stitched up on false charges simply to give the US an excuse to get Sweden to extradite him. To me, however, this is an even bigger reason why Assange  absolutely must let this play out however it will. As I see it, anything else is allowing all those involved to trivialise rape.

  1. If Assange is guilty of rape, then he is using his status to try and avoid facing the consequences. This is not acceptable.
  2. If Assange is not guilty of rape, and this is all a pretext to get him to face different charges however important those changes may be, then it is saying that false rape allegations can be justified. Wrong!
    All this does is trivialise actual cases of rape. This is just as unacceptable. More so, in a way, as it makes it harder for rape victims to believe they’ll be taken seriously.

The sad reality is that a case can be made for Julian Assange to effectively be “sacrificed” to test the truth of the rape allegations. Because if he really is an innocent man being stitched up for an ulterior motive then this must be brought to light and those responsible held to account.
Anything else is just turning to actual rape victims and saying, “The pain and horror you experienced is insignificant enough for us to use to bait a trap for someone else.” That is a precedent that must not be set!

Oh, and Assange did skip bail. Which, as far as I am aware, is still generally frowned upon even if you don’t get proven guilty?  Whatever valid points the UN panel had, the message that “If you have powerful connections, using them to break bail conditions is fine with us” is probably not the point they’re wishing to make.

Gun Control

Thunder 9 Pistol

By TacoArgentino (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0], via Wikimedia Commons

“There’s been another mass shooting in America.”

 

Putting it this way sounds awfully offhand, and borderline flippant, but they are the exact words used by US President Barack Obama after the October 2015 shooting in Oregon. The way he uses this is rather “matter of fact” and “day to day” and I think thats sort of the point. It is becoming normal.

The way he delivers this speech is one I’m familiar with. It’s the parent disappointed with the child they thought had learned their lesson. It’s the headteacher giving the school assembly after its students got a bad reputation. It’s the boss, whether in an all-staff briefing or a one-to-one meeting, telling their staff that the current situation is not good enough.
Whether on the receiving end or as just an observer, I’ve seen all of these first hand before and this is exactly how President Obama comes across.

He’s tired, disappointed and verging on angry. As “The Man In Charge” it is his role to makes statements at times like these and, in a way, to accept the responsibility of “his people” for their actions.

Time after time, he’s had to stand up after one of these incidents and offer condolences. In other types of tragedy, the leader of their country will also be saying how they are going to ensure that something like this doesn’t happen again. Yet, when it comes to gun crime his hands are tied. He wants to make a change but, instead, ends up having to be the public face of when it all goes wrong.

Again.

And again.

The guy looks tired.

“But we are not the only country on Earth that has people who have mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people.”

This is probably the most serious and least discriminatory statement I’ve ever some across when talking about a link between mental illness and acts of violence. It doesn’t establish a causal link and it doesn’t assume that all mentally ill people are potentially violent, or that all potentially violent people are mentally ill.
It does, however, suggest that the problem lies with the intersection of the two.

It also goes on to outright state that other countries have people who fall into one, either, or both of these categories and yet do not have the same frequency of mass shootings. They tend not to have as relaxed gun laws, either.

Part of the complexity of the issue in America, though, is the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. It protects the right of the people to bear arms. It also states that these rights should not be infringed. And this makes it messy. “This is a right that should not be compromised” is a difficult thing to regulate.

19th Century Pistol

By AlejandroLinaresGarcia (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

The thing is, though, that the world is a very different place now. I don’t even mean politically, I mean technologically. The Second Amendment was ratified in 1791. At the time, the majority of firearms were flintlock-based single-shot models. This is a far cry from clip-fed semi-automatic and automatic firearms available today.

Assault Rifle

By Burnyburnout (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Were weapons with that level of power something that they had in mind when creating the Bill of Rights?

 

 

The obvious and fair answer is “nobody knows”. It is something that ought to be taken into account, though. The world, the politics and the technology were very different back then. Many laws have changed, especially in terms of protecting people from others. Look at the age of consent, for one thing.

Times change. Societies change. Laws change. Except, it seems, this one.

As someone from the UK, I can only provide an outside perspective. Here’s the thing, though, the outside perspective is how each country is seen by others. The combination of easier access to guns and a much higher rate of gun fatalities doesn’t really paint the US in a very good light at times. And it’s a shame. Many Americans get tarred with the same brush as the few who spoil it for everyone else. I’ll also extend it to say that many gun owners get tarred by that same brush.
Seriously, if all gun owners were dangerous individuals then America probably wouldn’t exist in its current form anymore. The fact that the country hasn’t managed to wipe itself out in a hail of bullets tells me that the majority of gun owners can be and are are safe and responsible.

It’s just that there’s the occasional dickhead who spoils it for everyone else, usually at the cost of dozens of lives at the same time.

My own personal view, even as a Brit, is that I’m not totally anti-gun. We have very heavy restrictions on all kinds of weapons over here. That doesn’t always make me feel very safe as, yes, it does mean that criminals still have guns. Or knives. Or whatever. Only the “bad guys” are armed. I don’t like this.
Oh, and the police. But even if they do shoot a suspect, if they have to make a snap decision and get it wrong (in either direction) they get raked over the coals.

That doesn’t mean I’m a fan of unrestricted gun ownership, though. In fact, if the UK ever did ever make it legal to bear arms then I’d hope it was bloody well regulated. And licensed, kind of like cars.

The Car Analogy

Think about it. Certainly here in the UK you have to have a license to drive. This requires reaching a minimum age and going through a testing procedure. Owning a car also has its own requirements. You have to license the car against its registered owner, or have it registered as off-road. You need insurance. A car has to be regularly serviced and pass its MOT to prove that it is roadworthy. Your driving license will cover you for specific categories of vehicle, and you can get additional categories through appropriate training.

If you are careful and responsible, you will be able to drive as long as you have a valid license. And it will be likely that you will stay licensed.

If you’re a dick, you lose your license. Here in the UK it is points-based, so some driving offences are less severe than others but either way if you rack up past a certain amount then that’s it.

I don’t see why guns should be any different.

The other thing about how driving is regulated in the UK, at least, is that things like old age and certain medical conditions don’t always necessarily mean you’re automatically excluded from driving. They do, however, require additional and more frequent reapplications for your license. A similar regulation on guns would make sense, including mental health conditions.

As someone who struggles with depression and anxiety, and who knows people with varying levels of mental illness, I obviously don’t subscribe to the idea that all mentally ill people are dangerous. I do, however, think that it would be sensible if mental health issues were among conditions that required more frequent license application, or restricted from certain categories of firearm.
In my case, I do not think that I am likely to become a crazed killer the moment I got my hands on a gun. I would, however, say that when my anxiety gets particularly high it can impair my judgment and I get very twitchy. If that meant that, in a world where the UK allowed more open gun ownership, I had to reapply more frequently for a license, had restrictions on what categories of firearms I could use or it put me into a higher insurance bracket then so be it. Yes, it would be annoying but it would also mean I would have to think a little bit harder as to if I really wanted or needed a gun.

In Summary

I just feel, as an outside observer, that the current state of things is likely to lead to further tragedy and that, in response, one day there will be a knee-jerk reaction leading to a widespread ban on firearms. And I don’t think that would really work too well. Going straight from allowing something to complete prohibition is rarely a good solution.

Some level of regulation is needed, though. The statistics speak for themselves. Some things require proof of capability, responsibility and ownership. Driving is one of those things. I don’t see why guns shouldn’t be another.

A new era in Labour leadership?

I try not to get too political on here.
Case in point, you have no idea how many unwritten posts would’ve started with that very sentence.

However, as today saw the Labour Party (UK political party, currently in opposition) elect their new leader and deputy leader, I figured there were a few comments I wanted to throw into the ring.

To the delight of many, and the dismay of many others, Jeremy Corbyn was elected as the new Labour Leader. His policies seem very down-to-earth and he comes over as being a “real person” with strongly-held convictions. He also seems to resonate very strongly with those who’ve become disillusions with politics in recent years.

His critics, for weeks, have been implying that Labour under Corbyn would be “unelectable”. Right or wrong, I think this misses the point entirely as to why him being Labour leader can be a good thing.

Being the Opposition is more than just being “that bunch trying to be in power next time around”. Labour MPs are still, as the title implies, Members of Parliament. The same goes for all MPs not part of the main governmental party. Yes, looking forward to 2020 and the next election is important but that doesn’t mean that the next five years aren’t worth anything.

Having a main Opposition party is one of the checks and balances that we have in UK politics. At least, I think it’s supposed to be. When all the main political leaders look and sound largely the same, it can be hard to tell. Everyone wants to run in a similar direction and nobody is really throwing out a dissenting voice. It mostly comes over as name-calling and blame-shifting. “Why you’re wrong” instead of “Why we’re right”. A small but significant difference.
Having a strong leader with a strong purpose will help drive the Labour Party (or any party) in a definite direction. As a part of parliament, this is important. Even if Mr Corbyn’s views aren’t what some would call ideal, they’re ideas that’ll get spoken. Out loud. In parliamentary debate. As he seems to be wanting to represent some viewpoints that are often brushed aside, this is no bad thing.

To be honest, though, the main advantage is bigger than just the Labour Party. His involvement in the leadership elections inspired a lot of interest from those who are usually disinterested in politics and who think their opinions aren’t worth raising. Jeremy Corbyn looks to have the potential to at least partially shrink the perceived gap between “politicians” and “normal folk”.
He’s got people interested in politics. He’s got people realisoing that, if enough people participate, you can vote in someone different than the normal crowd. Right now, I suspect we’ve got a fair few more people paying attention to politics than they usually would. Regardless of which side they’re on, this is no bad thing. Politicians have power, so we need to make sure the people actually give a damn about politics,

I don’t agree with everything that he stands for, but I agree with a fair chunk of it. And even the bits I disagree with, it’s a breath of fresh air to have those viewpoints actually being aired by our political leaders. Hopefully, he wil inspire debate both within parliament and about politics.

As to why I think “unelectable” is missing the point…
If political debates get more “real” and more average people start to take an interest and actually bother to turn up to vote in 2020, does it really matter who gets in as long as politics begins to gain the trust of the public and people think that votes matter? Does it really matter which group is “in charge” as long as we can start to trust the whole lot of them to at least engage in serious debate about the matters that you and I actually give a damn about?

Labour under Corbyn looks like it could be interesting. And I don’t think it matters whether that party can be in government (as nice as that would be) as long as it’s in parliament. Whoever’s in charge, we need a decent Opposition to keep things balanced and to inspire debate in the next five years’ worth of parliamentary decision making.