There is No Moral High Ground

Politics has become incredibly adversarial. The abuse of people on all sides of the political spectrum is concerning and detrimental to constructive debate. If we are to have the mature discussions we need on the pressing issues of the day, then we need to clear up this misconception that there is a ‘right’ and a ‘wrong’ side in politics.

Unfortunately, a lot of political debate has descended into dismissing the legitimacy of people’s perspectives because of the rosette that they wear. Nuance has been thrown aside in favour of black and white principles; pragmatism and consensus politics cast out in favour of virtue-signalling and grandstanding. Politics has generally become an unwelcoming environment.

Here’s the thing, you may think that politicians and activists in other parties propose policies that ruin people’s lives, that make them worse off, that make society a little bit worse, but that’s part of politics. Of course you don’t agree with the prescriptions of people from different ideological backgrounds, because everyone views society differently, everyone perceives there to be different problems that need addressing, and everyone comes up with a different solution to those problems.

Yes, you make think that the problems they identify are wrong, or the solutions they come up with are harmful, but they aren’t in it to be harmful. They are trying to make society a better place, they are trying to help people, and treating them like they are scum is unlikely to contribute much other than to hinder political discourse and to make them less willing to change their perspective.

By all means, debate policy with your opponents, but don’t descend into personal attacks because they have a different idea of what people need to improve their lives. Don’t cast doubt upon their desire to help people because of the rosette that they wear. There is no moral high ground in politics, there is no right answer in politics, there are only people doing their best to make people’s lives better, and you help absolutely no one by abusing and belittling them.

Politics is tough. People who are self-serving or who don’t want to help others are extremely unlikely to put themselves through it. If you are self-serving, then being in politics makes no sense, because you could earn far more and gain far more power in the corporate world than as a politician. If you don’t want to help others, then you are unlikely to dedicate the kind of time to politics that it requires to become an MP and even less likely to want to take on the 24/7 work of being one.

Ultimately abusing and dismissing people because of their politics makes society a much worse place. Abusing politicians and activists means that fewer people will try to engage in politics, and thus prevent a national conversation about anything. That will, in turn, lead to far more people who vote for parties other than your own staying quiet about their beliefs, making it much more difficult to convert them to your cause as you won’t know where they are coming from.

Furthermore, dismissing someone’s argument because of their party does nothing for policy-making. The best policies come from taking ideas from across the political spectrum and finding common ground. We all see ills in society and we all come up with solutions. If we work together to refine those solutions and identify those ills, we will make far greater improvements to people’s lives than if we yell past one-another.

Political disagreements tend to boil down to a few main differences: outcome vs opportunity, social liberalism vs social conservatism, socialism vs capitalism, etc. You don’t have the moral high ground if you are on one side of those differences. You don’t have some claim to being superior, or even correct, if you are on one side. There is no right and wrong in politics, there is only a collection of nuanced views on how to make the world a better place.

We need to stop trying to make politics into a question of who is helping people, and we need to go back to making it about how we help them.

Educating People for Society, Not Just the Workforce

School is supposed to prepare you for the real world. Theoretically it gives you the skills and the experiences needed to survive and thrive in adulthood – otherwise why would we subject people to it? Except it doesn’t really prepare you for the real world. Remember that time you went to work and you spent all day listening to someone talk at you, while sat in a compulsively neat row of tables and chairs? No? What about that time you had to write down everything you knew about something that you were told eighteen months ago, without being able to use any notes or predict what exactly you would need to know? That doesn’t happen in the real world either?

At least school taught you useful things like how to rent a house, get a job, budget, apply for a mortgage, generally survive in the real world, right? Oh wait, it didn’t do that either. The schooling system isn’t there to prepare people for real life – if it is, it does a terrible job – it’s there to teach useful academic knowledge in an overly complex way and rank children with a number that indicates to an employer how valuable they are.

Exams are detrimental to education. They provide students with three months of stressful revision in order to condense two or more years worth of teaching into a handy two hour snippet of what a child can splurge onto a page. When you get mock exams or practice essays back, you aren’t told how to become a better writer, you don’t read the in-depth comments, you look at the number you get given: if it’s high enough, you pat yourself on the back and keep going how you were; if it’s too low you learn the mark scheme slightly better to score points off of pointless academic nuance that’s irrelevant to how well you know your topic.

The numbers exist so that employers and universities can score you. There’s a standardised (or roughly standardised) curriculum so that they can rank you against your peers. It provides a quick shortcut: universities and employers can look at those numbers and decide whether or not you are good enough. If you took away the numbers, what would the risks be? Children would be less stressed, they’d gain two or three months of extra teaching, the curriculum could be more varied and more difficult subjects taught at a more leisurely pace. The main risk seems to be demotivating people, but if you take away ‘reach x number of pupils getting x score’ from teachers’ objectives, then they could come up with ways to tailor their feedback and teaching to each student.

Employers and universities would have to do a little bit more work, true. They might have to read your personal statement or your covering letter in more detail, perhaps ask for an example of your work, maybe even come up with their own entry exam that reflects the skills needed at that institution, but that doesn’t seem a reason to subject children to being mere data entries on the great spreadsheet that is our education system.

You may, I expect, be wondering what the point of all this is? Well, as the BBC recently reported, students are emerging from the spreadsheet woefully under-prepared for university, and (I hypothesise from my own experience) the big wide world that they get thrust into the instant a piece of paper indicates they are ready.

That’s not really a surprise though, is it? Very few people emerge from the schooling system having learnt how to adult. Adulting is something that we are supposed to learn from our parents, or from our mistakes. They have a part to play, but our education system needs to do more to tackle our futures than sit us in a room and watch a teacher awkwardly tell a group of teenagers that sex is dangerous and drugs are bad.

PSHE is important, don’t get me wrong, it’s just inadequate and mal-managed. It teaches some stuff, but leaves you laughably unprepared. Proper life skills: what to expect at university, how to balance a budget, register for a doctor, rent a house, get a job, buy and cook healthy meals, register to vote – I could go on, but this would turn into a long list of things I’m not very good at, as opposed to an article arguing for serious reform – are things that remain largely absent from education, but seem to be necessary skills for people to have.

This is in part because of the skills that it aims to deliver, as mentioned, and in part because the environment isn’t suited to the delivery of such skills.

One of the main problems faced by life skills initiatives is that it only takes one disruptive pupil to reduce the benefit received by the other members of the group. Therefore the education system would have to come up with some way of ensuring maximal participation while at the same time allowing those pupils who have no interest in attending (and therefore would have received no benefits from simply being present) to not go. A shockingly revolutionary suggestion I know, but perhaps those, for whom it would be no benefit, because they wouldn’t listen, could go and do sport, or a library session, or simply choose another workshop that they are interested in. A little choice can make a massive difference, even if education largely precludes significant choice until you are old enough to get married.

Another revolutionary idea, but maybe not everything in school needs to be delivered by a teacher? I know, you’ve always wanted that guy who taught you ICT to teach you about drugs, but he doesn’t look like he wants to be here and, frankly, he stopped saying anything useful about 4 minutes into the first lesson. Sessions delivered by volunteers who actually wanted to be there and are passionate, rather than by teachers who were being forced to deliver something as dictated by the curriculum, would be conducive to students actually gleaning real-life hints and tips and getting a better understanding of key skills and issues.

It could be supported by events and practical sessions which gave real meaning to them and provided some form of end goal. The possibilities are endless and they would impart real benefit to young people and ensure that they leave the education system with at least a little bit of preparation for the real world.

Ultimately the problem faced by many is that they come out of education with academic skills and a lovely data entry on the spreadsheet at the Department for Education, but without the practical skills that they need to thrive in the real world. It is time that we started educating young people to be members of a society, rather than just educating them to be a part of a workforce and yet another data entry. If we treat them as individuals and give them vital skills that they can use for their whole lives, then we might see a real improvement in the lives and mental health of young people in our society.

U-turn if you want to

We expect our politicians to make the right decision every time. We expect them to be exemplary role models in every aspect of their private and professional lives. If we want to have a better politics in this country, we need to accept that all our politicians – whatever their party or ideological background – are human, and that sometimes humans make mistakes.

There is a significant cognitive dissonance surrounding ‘U-turns’ in politics. We see a policy we dislike, we make a big clamour about how much we dislike it, the government changes its mind on the policy, and we are outraged that the U-turn has happened. Either we didn’t dislike the original policy, we made too much of a clamour, we spoke too soon and so when the government changed its mind we realised we liked the original plans, or alternatively we like using U-turns as a stick to beat politicians with.

One of the main arguments against U-turns seems to be: ‘but they should get the policy right in the first place’. Certainly there is a case to be made for that argument, but as previously mentioned, our politicians are human, however much we try to convince ourselves they aren’t. If a politician gets something wrong, or underestimates how unpopular something will be, then the right thing to do is to admit that and U-turn. By our constant outcry every time a bad idea gets canned, you’d think we’d prefer to suffer and say, ‘I told you so,’ than have effective policy-making.

This argument also undermines one of the basic principles of politics: the idea that decisions should be made through a public and/or parliamentary debate about an issue. The whole reason we have a debate and elections, rather than just allowing faceless administrators to govern in some benevolent dictatorship, is that we want bad decisions to be overturned and mediocre decisions to be turned into good ones. If we start out with the attitude: ‘we want debate and parliament to listen to our voices, but we don’t want them to actually change their minds’, then one has to ask what the point of the debate actually is?

Politicians may well be expected to get a decision right first time, every time, but when they don’t we should respect them far more for U-turning in the face of public pressure than for carrying on regardless and inflicting poor policy upon us. A strong leader will get every decision right, a stronger one will be willing to compromise when they get things wrong.

Pragmatic policy-making, with consultation and debate, is the desired political process. It ensures that we get the best decisions, and that where decisions go against what we desire we can influence our legislators to implement better policy. Accountability requires responsiveness, if we want an accountable government, we need to stop criticising politicians for being responsive.

When a politician is strong enough to admit that they were wrong about something and change their mind, that is far more worthy of respect than any posturing show of strength in the face of criticism. We put an extraordinary amount of pressure on our politicians and expect them to be everything to everyone. In a culture of criticising everything they do, let’s be clear: if we don’t like a policy they propose, and they have the guts to U-turn on it, then we should be applauding that decision, not implying that it makes them weak.

For a truly responsive, inclusive and working democracy, we should tell our politicians: ‘U-turn if you want to’.

“The DUP should not have power” say the party who need them to form a Government

Who knew that 262 was a larger number than 318? Theresa May, the leader of the party who won this election, is forming a government. To do so she is doing a deal with the fifth largest party in the House of Commons. Amongst other things, the DUP are homophobic and anti-abortion. Fortunately, the Conservative Party’s deal with them won’t include votes on those issues, which are largely devolved to Northern Ireland.

Hyperbole about the DUP then is nothing to do with their views, which will largely consist of backing the Tories in areas of overlapping preferences and thereby supporting the manifesto which was endorsed by the most voters. Nor is hyperbole about the DUP about any threat to the Good Friday Agreement, as it has been established that Labour tried to do exactly the same thing in 2010 and 2015. If we add into this the well-known opposition to the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1985 by Corbyn, on the grounds of his support for a united Ireland, and the opposition to the Good Friday Agreement by John McDonnell in 1998 for the same reasons, and the fact that McDonnell thought unionism was something that needed ‘dealing with’, a belief in a neutral approach to Northern Ireland wouldn’t seem to be justified by throwing Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.

The reason for hyperbole seems to be solely that they are the way that Theresa May stays in Downing Street. After all, if Labour are to form a government then they would need the support of the DUP as well. One wonders whether the DUP’s critics would be so vocal if they were putting Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10.

There has also been an amusing attempt to make ‘Coalition of Chaos’ jokes by Labour members. It’s true that having to rely on another party is not ideal, but it’s remarkable that some people seem to think a Tory/DUP deal is more chaotic than the Labour/Lib Dem/Green/SNP/Plaid/DUP deal it would require to make Jeremy Corbyn, a man with absolutely no mandate, Prime Minister.

Ignoring the hyperbole, the arguments against a Tory/DUP deal seem limited. A few compromises on the manifesto, and a couple of concessions on minor issues provide a government which commands a majority of the House and thus has a mandate to rule. They are certainly less strong than the arguments against the massive compromises involved in the gigantic coalition that is the alternative.

Corbyn actually opposes a Tory/DUP deal because he wants another election while he has the momentum. But we all know, dissolving a Parliament and calling an election because you are riding high in the polls is the kind of political opportunism the public so despise in our politics.

Why Brexit?

The vote to leave the European Union opens up the UK to a fair, liberal, and global future, where we trade and cooperate with the entire world. Brexit is an opportunity to create a network of global free trade deals, a fair immigration system, and a more democratic political system.

Let’s be clear, the EU is not some progressive globalised body. It is a protectionist organisation designed to promote intra-European trade at the expense of trade with the other 169 countries of the world. It prevents the UK from conducting free trade deals with growing economies outside the EU, and with our traditional global allies. The Common External Tariff means that European good and services are made to seem cheaper by pricing out other markets.

As a globalist, outward-looking nation, the Brexit vote mandated us to seek to secure free trade deals, not just with the EU27, but with the wider world. We will be able to secure fair trade deals with the growing economies of the world: China, India, Brazil etc.; and with our traditional Commonwealth and Anglosphere allies. If we are to truly be a part of a globalising world then it is also important to have a seat at the top table, which means increasing our influence from simply being 1/28th of a voice in organisations like the WTO.

Brexit also presents us with an opportunity to establish a fairer, more liberal immigration system. If we accept that there has to be some form of upper limit on immigration (whatever number we set that at), then free movement of labour within Europe is inherently illiberal because it reduces the opportunities for people from non-EU nations to come and work in the UK, simply based on the passport that they hold. We should use the opportunity presented by Brexit to ensure that our immigration system is based on the person, not their nationality. It is not just, fair, or liberal to propose a system that requires us to discriminate against people based on their result in life’s first great lottery.

This is a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. Brexit removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead returns important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased power for Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level passed down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect Southampton get made by a Southampton government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It also brings an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy, and eradicating further democratic deficits.

Britain can use this opportunity to retake our place on the global stage. A global Britain trading, working, cooperating with our European friends and neighbours and with our global allies. Taking the lead on security cooperation within and outside of Europe. Cooperating on global issues as a whole voice, rather than as a tiny part of one.

Brexit is about ensuring that we create a global Britain, with global free trade, a fair and liberal immigration system, and a better democracy.

The Conservatives are the Only Viable Party on June 8th

On June 8th, the country will have a choice. It will be a choice between a strong, united Conservative Party with a plan for Britain and the capacity to deliver a stable Brexit; and a Labour Party divided and led by a leader completely unfit to occupy 10 Downing Street.

The only thing that unites the Parliamentary Labour Party is their loathing of Jeremy Corbyn – they are not fit or able to govern this country. Their policies are limited and poorly thought through. Free school meals for middle and high income pupils, funded in such a way that they would have to ensure enough pupils went to private school, which combined with their opposition to grammars shows once again that Labour are not the party of opportunity, seems to be the only thing of any real note.

Not only do Labour not have any policies, but they couldn’t deliver them if they did. They are a party of ideological division, gesture politics, and personal ambitions. Corbyn isn’t strong enough to control his MPs or stand up for Britain on the world stage. He u-turned on his long-standing opposition to the EU for political gain – he shouldn’t be trusted to keep short term policy positions if he can’t even stand by his long-held beliefs. He won’t stand in the way of Scottish independence and stand up for our Union. He can’t keep a Shadow Cabinet together, let alone a government. He couldn’t even get a seat on a train, on June 8th don’t let his MPs get a seat in your area.

The Liberal Democrats won’t listen to the people. In 2010, the people trusted the Lib Dems not to raise tuition fees, they did. In 2016, the people told us they wanted to Leave the European Union, the Lib Dems didn’t listen. If you vote for them in 2017, can you really trust them to deliver what they promise? They want this election to be Remain vs Leave, stirring up the division of the last year once more – on June 8th, reject the Lib Dems’ politicking with the will of the people and don’t let them prop up an incompetent Corbyn government.

UKIP are divided and obsolete. They are a protest party without any credible political figures and an inability to keep the ones that they do have. If you want to see what a UKIP presence in Parliament would look like, look no further than their European Parliamentary group – disorganised, prone to (literal) infighting, and with a poor attendance record. A vote for UKIP on June 8th is a vote against Brexit and against a strong government. It is a vote for Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour.

This election will define the future of our country. For a strong, stable, united United Kingdom vote for a Conservative Party who will stand up for Britain in the Brexit negotiations and who will stand up to the Scottish Nationalists in Edinburgh. It is time to put aside division, and petty politicking and come together behind the Prime Minister to deliver a solid mandate for this country’s future.

Theresa May has shown that she is able to represent Britain on the world stage. She is a proven statesperson with a solid record in government. The Conservative Party has a strong platform of policies and a record of delivering on our promises. If you wanted to find a direct contrast to Labour’s incompetence, you needn’t look much further than Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

A vote for the Conservative and Unionist Party is a vote for a strong and united United Kingdom. A vote for the Conservative Party is a vote for a proven government filled with experienced legislators who can continue to build a strong economy and a fair society. A vote for the Conservatives is a vote for a party who will listen to, and work for, the people of this country at home and abroad.

Now, more than ever, we need a strong and stable government working for this country. Labour and UKIP can’t deliver, the Lib Dems won’t deliver – on June 8th let’s continue building a country that works for everyone.

The Death Throes of UKIP

It’s over. UKIP has had an exceptional rise and fall. Coming from nowhere to coalesce voters from the right and the left behind a populist, anti-immigration party, UKIP became the third largest party by votes in the UK and won a nationwide election (albeit, an European one). Its rise was particularly significant when Clacton MP Douglas Carswell exchanged blue for purple, and the party reached its zenith when the referendum called to combat their rise led to the achievement of their ultimate aim. Yet UKIP’s pulse has seemingly been ended in fittingly symmetric fashion by the departure of their sole MP.

UKIP’s main problem has been in its very nature. In order to suppress gaffes from low level members and politicians, Nigel Farage carefully groomed his and his party’s image to the extent where it became the Nigel Farage Party. Farage’s exit has thrust the party’s problems onto centre stage, and has lessened their ability to ride out problems. Previously, a visit to the pub, a quick statement, and a tour-de-force of personality were sufficient to convince voters to keep voting for UKIP – Diane James and Paul Nuttall have lacked the political ability to follow in his footsteps. Without Farage, UKIP lack both direction and a clear spokesman.

One claim is that UKIP’s decline in some polls and their failure to up their vote in recent by-elections is that, with Brexit, the party has become a victim of its own success. This is partially true, but it’s a wider issue. The problem that UKIP have is that prior to the referendum, they failed to diversify their party message by focusing on other issues. The public simply had a lack of clarity on what UKIP stood for other than Brexit, and so the implementation of Brexit will see the point of UKIP decrease – not because they are victims of their own success, but because they failed to present a broad spectrum of policies. Likewise, it is also due to their failure to react to Brexit. Short of their insistence on strict controls on immigration and a commitment to a ‘Hard Brexit’, it is unclear what policies might incentivise someone to move to UKIP now from another party.

Failure to diversify their message has also meant that they have allowed themselves to be outmanoeuvred politically. With the Conservatives committed to delivering Brexit, it seems a logical disconnect to say that only voting UKIP can ensure that it gets delivered. Likewise, with Theresa May’s willingness to go down the Hard Brexit route, UKIP’s ability to campaign on that is weakened. If a mainstream party are adopting a similar set of policies to a less well established party’s entire platform, that will severely weaken the newer party.

Infighting (literally in the case of Steven Woolfe) has also seen the party shed recognisable figures and credibility in recent months. Woolfe, Diane James, Aaron Banks and now Carswell are the main figures who’ve left UKIP, which combined with Farage’s departure from party politics has left UKIP rudderless and without much claim to the personal votes of its leaders. Just two high profile figures remain, and they represent a sense of why UKIP are falling behind: Paul Nuttall, who proved less popular (by a margin of 12%) than a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country, at a time when Labour are at their least popular; and Suzanne Evans, who was much less popular with UKIP members than a man who was 12% behind a scandal-ridden arch-Remain Labour candidate in one of the most strongly pro-Brexit areas of the country. This, at a time when Labour are at their least popular.

Not only has infighting summarily rid UKIP of its most well-known and experienced politicians, it has also made them appear amateurish. Rather than a party that could successfully hold the government to account, they look like a squabbling fringe party. Carswell’s loss is a blow in this regard. As a sensible, appealing, moderate voice he gave UKIP a chance of seeming electable and professional. Without him, and with the party membership’s general animosity towards him, that feeling has evaporated. The loss of Carswell also has a more location-specific effect. Given his success in 2014 and 2015, Clacton seems unlikely to return to UKIP’s hands in 2020.

Clacton directs our attention to another interesting point: UKIP’s inability to win seats. Whether it is their campaigning, the lack of a concentrated group of supporters, or a lack of credible candidates, UKIP have made a habit of snatching 2nd place finishes in winnable seats. If they had won more MPs in 2015, UKIP would probably have gone from strength to strength and may even have ended up in a coalition government. Yet their failure to win seats prevented a core of MPs emerging to offset the impact of the loss of Carswell et al. Likewise, it made UKIP’s relationship with its parliamentary delegate (Carswell) seem like an inability to manage a Parliamentary group, weakening its professionalism.

Finally, their lack of electoral success speaks to a third problem: if UKIP prove unable to convert support into MPs, then seats where UKIP are currently viable may see voters who have switched to UKIP from mainstream parties return, so that their second preference has a shot at winning the seat. This loss will begin in seats where there is a smaller presence, but UKIP should be wary of the potential for a massive shift away from them towards the established parties, as a result of tactical voting.

So, do UKIP have any hope? Simply, yes. They have built an impressive base and a strong political image, and if they wish to remain relevant, they must build on that. Other single issue approaches might be possible: becoming the party of English nationalism might be a viable option – particularly in a growing era of Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish nationalism. Generally, a wider platform is needed for UKIP to become relevant in the long term. Two potential solutions seem to emerge here: the nativist, anti-globalist party, representing a push back against free trade and pushing for the protection of British values; and the libertarianism represented by likes of Carswell. The former seems a more likely route, but unless they act soon, there may not be a credible party left to rescue.

PSHE: How to Deliver the Skills Education Does Not Teach

We all remember PSHE. That lesson no one really cared about; where you learned “important” things like how far a paper aeroplane made out of a leaflet about drugs could fly, how to put a condom on various items of fruit, and, most crucially, that some girl with appalling acting skills was crying in a petrol station café because they had done x thing that you were being advised against (and yes, it was always the same video). Did anyone ever learn anything useful in PSHE? Anything that helped with life in the real world? Most people did not.

PSHE is an awkward, cumbersome mixture of a group of students who don’t care, a teacher who (for the most part) does not want to be there, and a series of embarrassing topics that most teenagers think they already know everything about. The topics covered in PSHE are the sort of stuff that schools should be teaching, but if we really care about our young people then we need to accept that there are more pieces of information they need than can be taught in that environment.

Life skills education is sorely lacking in our schools. Yes, you may be able to write a perfect Shakespearian sonnet. Yes, you may know all of the stages of a star’s life. Yes, you may be able to differentiate in a million-and-one different ways. But can you do the important things? Did school ever teach you the best way to do an interview? Did it ever teach you how to balance a budget, or even make a budget for that matter? What about signing up for a local doctor, or registering to vote, or renting a house?

Our schools fail to deliver life skills because they can’t deliver them. If PSHE taught us one thing, it’s that skills need to be delivered in a way that is fun and interactive and innovative, and not through meaningless embarrassing role plays that will be forgotten the instant they are over. It also taught us that learning about life skills issues shouldn’t be compulsory, because the thing that derailed the lessons for those who were interested in learning was the behaviour of those who weren’t.

So, if schools don’t deliver these skills, and if it’s not as simple as just adding extra topics into PSHE, what is the solution?

In short, the solution is to provide those skills in a non-compulsory, informal session: life skills workshops. Imagine an after-school club which delivered life skills – if you wanted to learn about the topic that was on offer that week then you would be able to go, if you didn’t feel like that was something important to you, then you would not have to. It would be an environment conducive to learning, to trying new things, and to delivering the crucial skills that all young people should have when they leave school. Workshops where, rather than one of your teachers issuing a boring diatribe about how important something is, passionate, enthusiastic volunteers and experts would give real, practical, hands-on tips, advice and guidance.

There are a vast array of subjects that could be covered. Everything from everyday skills like cooking, cleaning, managing your money, to bigger civic issues like learning about politics and how to impact the society around you. It simply isn’t the case that young people are disinterested in learning about life skills, but the fact of the matter is that we, as a society, are failing the next generation by providing them with an education system that sees them leave school without the skills they need to take on life’s realities. Life skills workshops would offer a solution to remedy that problem – delivering skills in voluntary, informal, useful sessions that most young people might actually want to attend.

The problem may lie in our education system, but the solution lies adjacent to it; bringing workshops that make a real difference and deliver real skills to schools, in such a format that every child who wants to participate can, and those who do not want to can choose not to attend. This is a solution that could work nationally, but we can make it work in Southampton first. Delivering these workshops successfully on a local level would be a great first step towards getting them delivered nationally, so that every child, in every town, city, and country of the United Kingdom can have the opportunity to learn skills that will make a real difference to them. We, as a generation who didn’t benefit from receiving this kind of workshop, owe it to the next generation to make that happen.

Today Marks the Dawn of a New Britain

Today after many (literal) trials and tribulations, the Prime Minister fired the starting gun on Brexit. In the next two years, we will get more of a glimpse into what Brexit will look like, but here is a quick take on what Brexit should actually mean for Britain.The first (chronologically) and easiest thing for the Prime Minister to achieve in the negotiations is a guarantee that British citizens living and working in the EU27 will be allowed to remain, and that EU citizens living and working in the UK should be guaranteed the same. This is an important first step to securing peace of mind for the thousands of citizens in both areas who are deeply concerned about their right to stay in the country they now call home. Both sides seem to be committed to this principle as an early goal for negotiations, and so it should be achieved without too much strain.

Another important issue for the Prime Minister is to ensure that we created a globalist, outward-looking Britain, which matches both the desire of Leavers, and of the Remainers who support free trade and other liberal values. We should be aiming for free trade with the European Union after Brexit, but we must ensure that we are not tied down by the Customs Union. The regressive isolationism of tariffs on non-EU states has prevented Britain from harnessing the power and growth of emerging markets like China, India and Brazil, as well as inhibiting our ability to conduct trade with our traditional allies: particularly Canada, Australia and the United States.

Securing global free trade deals is an important aim of Brexit, and was something heavily pushed for by Vote Leave and mandated by the 17m people who voted for it. A global, free trading Britain is the future for this country, and becoming a beacon for trade can only bode well for our economy. Particular focus once trade restrictions with non-EU nations have been lifted should be securing deals with our traditional Commonwealth allies and other countries where there are fewer non-tariff barriers to entry, as well as ensure that the economies of tomorrow are included in any such deals.

With a globalist Britain in mind, we should also be looking to retain our cooperation on initiatives on important global issues, such as security and climate change. Britain should be a world leader in such areas and should retain its links with European nations to continue working to solve them – as was often repeated in the campaign: we are not leaving Europe, nor are we saying that we no longer wish to be friends and allies, we are simply leaving a political union. Cooperation within Europe should continue, and Britain should use the opportunity to build a new network of allies across the world to continue to tackle important issues.

Another goal of the negotiations should be an end to the automatic free movement of labour. Retaining free movement for tourism and for other leisure pursuits should be encouraged, but we must put an end to a discriminatory immigration system which weighs a person’s nationality more than a person’s personality. Our immigration system should be based on the person and not the passport that they hold, and everyone wishing to come and live in the UK should undergo the same process. If we accept that there must be some upper limit on immigration (whatever number that may be), then a system of free movement of people gives an unfair advantage to people from 27 nations over those from 169 – that is not just, not right, and not fair, and it must end.

Brexit also offers us a chance to reclaim and strengthen our democracy. It removes the impact of an unelected supranational body on our legislation, and instead it brings back important competencies to the UK’s legislative system. Increased powers for the UK Parliament should see powers that currently exist at national level fall down to regional governments, creating a system where the decisions that affect you get made by a local government that is much more convenient for you to lobby and influence, and by local representatives who can be swayed by a much smaller group of people (as they have smaller constituencies).

It may also bring an impetus for democratic reform. We have seen people examine the House of Lords with more scrutiny already during the Brexit process, and ask important questions about how much constitutional power the executive and the judiciary should have, and that sort of deliberation can only be a positive thing with regards building a representative and effective democracy.

Finally, it seems a given, but we should also use the opportunity to strengthen our Union, and not give in to those who seek to divide it. We share a common history and a common destiny. We share a common language and a common culture. This isn’t an English and Welsh Brexit, it is a red, white and blue Brexit, and it should work for England, Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland, Gibraltar, London and Cornwall.

Together, we take our first steps into a bright future.

University Without Freedom of Speech is No University at All

Irony (noun): banning a Student Conservative Society from using its social media accounts because it criticised your free speech record. Lincoln Students’ Union recently decided that the solution to criticism of its attitude to free speech was to take away the right to free speech of the people who criticised them. This sort of action is a microcosm of the attitude to free speech taken by too many SU’s up and down the country, and is a telling sign of the culture prevalent within the NUS and other bodies that view cracking down on views they don’t agree with as an acceptable measure to take. There is absolutely no point to university if students don’t get exposed to a wide range of viewpoints, and ultimately censorship achieves very little.

Firstly, we have to deal with the most common argument in favour of no-platforming: the right to free speech doesn’t equal the right to a platform. This argument is usually applied incorrectly, because it is used to excuse third party agents intervening to prevent speeches in cases where an organisation has offered a speaker a platform, and they have accepted it. This is clearly unacceptable: individual organisations have the right of offer someone a platform – if you disagree with them saying things and choose to take that platform away, that is inhibiting their freedom of speech. Indeed, the whole ‘right to a platform’ argument seems weak; if I put tape over your mouth, I’m not inhibiting your freedom of speech, merely what platform you can speak on. Yet that would be a very disingenuous argument. If your no-platforming involves simply refusing to invite people to speak, then that isn’t no-platforming and it isn’t a problem – if your no-platforming involves removing a platform that someone has been offered, then that is a freedom of speech issue.

Potential arguments in favour of inhibiting freedom of speech seem to often revolve around not giving extreme speakers publicity. This is obviously a logical fallacy, because no-platforming produces far more news stories than allowing people to speak. Likewise, there is a somewhat insulting notion that allowing extreme speakers to speak might encourage people to have extreme views. Let’s settle this once and for all: it is not letting people say extreme things that leads to extremism, it is not letting them say things. Extremists thrive on ‘us vs them’ scenarios, because they polarise debate and make people pick sides. When people have to pick sides you find moderates who believe that freedom of speech is sacrosanct, defending the rights of those like Milo Yiannopoulos alongside people who are much more extreme, and that is far more likely to cause a perpetuation of extremist values than simply letting a speaker speak. Furthermore, you give ammunition and credence to extremists’ views by not letting them speak; in essence, you inadvertently support them by opposing them in this way.

So, why is free speech ultimately good? Well, people learn far more about someone’s arguments by listening to them than by ignoring them. If you want to oppose a narrative, then exposing yourself to their points and understanding their nuances means that you’ll be better able to shape your arguments to prove them wrong. Furthermore, I find it much more difficult to beat someone in a debate if you never invite them to take part. We’ve been talking about extreme viewpoints, but a lot of the time Unions seem to simply oppose views they disagree with (see anything the NUS has done in the last two or three years). This is inherently illogical: telling someone they cannot express their views won’t change their mind, and if you want someone to agree with you, then finding out how they oppose your ideas is a good start in coming up with arguments they will agree with.

Ultimately you need a breadth of ideas on a university campus to actually make progress. If no one ever challenges your worldview, then you’ll never see the need to improve it. If you never hear a dissenting opinion, then you’ll never know how to challenge it. Having a number of different and nuanced political positions means that there will be better policy outcomes, more scope for engagement in politics, and generally more cross-spectrum collaboration on things that you agree on. At Southampton, we benefit hugely from having a variety of dissenting viewpoints and opinions, with worthwhile debates, discussion and campaigning on issues.

Alex Hovden, the Union Southampton President, explained: ‘As a Union, we have a responsibility to represent every student’s viewpoint, regardless of political leaning and or affiliation. The reality is that a wide scope of opinions is part of what makes the student body diverse, which on one hand makes my job harder, but on the other hand it enables me to challenge the University and other relevant decision makers from a wide variety of perspectives, which can only be a good thing. I’d encourage students to continue discussing your ideas and opinions, and keep challenging me and the other full time officers to represent you as effectively as possible.’

The whole purpose of university is to be a place to air and challenge views, and question, challenge, and criticise prevailing elites. If a Union decides that it doesn’t want to be challenged, then it undermines the nature of university. Lincoln SU is just one example: they cited a criticism of their free speech record as a means of bringing their organisation into disrepute, but by seeking to ban, rather than accept the criticism; by seeking to restrict, rather than debate, they brought their institution into more disrepute than any criticism possibly could have.

Finally, the issue of offence is a common excuse for censorship. Here’s the thing: not liking something doesn’t give you the right to stop it. If you are seriously offended by the views of a speaker, don’t go to the event they are at. If we prevent everything that might conceivably cause someone offence, we’ll end up preventing everything. Instead of teaching young people ways to prevent offence, why not come up with strategies to help them deal with it? It’s not nice, but offence is a part of life, and university seems like a good place to learn how to respond to it. In all honesty, if you are offended by something, that’s probably a good thing. Being offended is a mobilising force that gives you the drive and determination to change things and fight for what you believe in.

Very little gets changed when everyone is happy, it takes someone being offended to really drive them to fight for their beliefs. I am offended by censorship and restrictions on free speech, which is why I oppose such measures with every fibre of my being. To those Unions around the country who would seek to follow the Lincoln approach and oppose freedom of speech, those of us who support it say to you: we find your opposition to free speech offensive, and by your own logic that mandates you to ban it.