Polarised Politics Makes Society Worse

People with different political views to your own merely have different perspectives on how to make society better, rather than whether to make society better. If you believe that their policy prescriptions do nothing to improve society, or even make it worse, then challenge them on the policies that they propose, not their moral character. If we insist on an antagonised and tribal political environment, then we will only make society inherently worse.

Last week, a 2017 intake MP said that she isn’t friends with people of the opposite political persuasion because she believed that they are ‘ambivalent to the suffering of [her] constituents’. I would posit an alternative hypothesis: she believes that her opponents are ambivalent to the suffering of ordinary people because she isn’t friends with any of them. Those who actively and avowedly avoid social relationships with people of opposite political positions tend to have a fairly two-dimensional understanding of what it means to hold that position.

They make assertions about things they think people in that group believe without any nuance, and largely without being close to the truth. Because they have never had a conversation with a friend who holds that position they have no understanding of why those people think as they do, and they take the easy route into assuming that it is out of self-interest or ignorance, rather than being part of a more complex and three-dimensional set of political prescriptions for how society should run.

The reason that such a lack of understanding makes society worse is simple: it is only through discourse with people who have a different worldview that you can get a fully rounded impression of all of the issues in society, and the ways in which you might solve them. If every party operates in a policy echo chamber then they will isolate half the problem and attempt to solve that, without ever being aware of alternative problems or potential pitfalls in their plans. Worse than not listening, if a legislator truly believes that their opponents do not care about improving people’s lives, then they will dismiss any criticism of their policies out-of-hand, and society will suffer from poorer policy.

The same arguments as to why a government with a small majority is better than one with an overwhelming majority apply to why people need to accept that politics is not good vs evil but rather a group of people who identify different societal problems attempting to improve things. Policy is better when it is calmly and rationally discussed by political opponents, because getting an understanding of how your opponents think enables you to come up with better, more nuanced and more well-rounded approaches to improving society.

Another massive problem of an antagonised political sphere is that genuinely believing that political opponents are ambivalent to societal problems acts as a justification to abuse of those candidates – it is irresponsible of someone in a position of influence to promote such a belief. Believing someone doesn’t care is a requisite for sending them abuse and threats, so a society in which that belief is actively propagated is one where abuse of opposing candidates will become more prevalent. We saw a sharp increase in abuse of candidates of all political persuasions in the 2017 General Election, and such an atmosphere has massive negative implications for policy-making.

Abuse of candidates becoming a part of the political scene will actively put off potential candidates and activists, and may encourage those who do choose to engage in politics to become more guarded. That will mean that it becomes more difficult to get legislators with a wide range of backgrounds and ideas to run for office, and it will weaken the quality of the pool of legislators for voters to choose from. A less diverse and weaker group of legislators again reduces the effectiveness of policy-making, especially when coupled with legislators fearing abuse being much less willing to criticise policies.

Activist suppression is another outcome of polarised politics, which inherently reduces the effectiveness of politics as an institution. There is an attitude in modern politics that being a member of and volunteering for a party means that you support every single thing that party has ever done, unless of course it is the party that the person making the accusation is a member of. Broad-church parties grew out of the knowledge that sometimes your party leadership (and by extension, policy) will reflect a different strand of ideology to your own within the organisation.

Discouraging opponents from joining political parties by implying that they have to support all existing policy to do so is an inherently bad idea. Not only does it mean that the party you disagree with will become more inflexible in its approach, adopting an increasingly narrow ideological band of policies, with fewer contributors to policy discourse blunting its effectiveness and thereby worsening the policies that a government led by that party would pursue, but it also severely weakens your opponents. A strong party needs strong opposing parties in order to remain strong – opposition and finding chinks in policy are a crucial part of policy-making; while electorally weak opponents encourage the party you support to become sloppy (as epitomised, if a case study were needed, by the 2017 Conservative General Election campaign). We need our opponents to be sufficiently well-funded to give the party we support the encouragement to be at its best, and we need them to have sufficient party members to have well-rounded policy discussions.

From an objective point of view, the other reason that we should be actively encouraging our political opponents to join parties links back nicely to the reason you should have friends with opposing beliefs. In an echo chamber, we fail to understand why our opponents act in the way that they do, and in our failure to understand we assume the worst of their intentions. One part of political activism is to go out and talk to people about why they should support a certain party and to provide them with that understanding of why a party thinks the way it does. Good understanding of your opponents is crucial to solid political debate, and a large number of activists spreading that understanding improves both policy-making and tolerance of opposing views.

It is very easy to assume the worst of your political opponents. It is very easy to shun them and construct two-dimensional pictures of their views which fit with our own worldview. Politics isn’t easy, it isn’t two-dimensional, and our own view of society is but one piece of a much bigger jigsaw. In this time of antagonism, if you genuinely believe that members of another party don’t care about improving society, I would suggest going and talking to some of them – you’ll probably find that they care just as much as you, they just have come to different answers to the big political questions.

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Representation Over Representativeness: The Case for First-Past-the-Post

Aside from the arguments around its traditional place in our political structure, there are several arguments in favour of FPTP. Whilst the clamour for electoral reform has continued to grow, the case for it isn’t as black-and-white as it is being made to seem, and it is about time that those of us opposed to it make the case against it.

With Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour pursuing campaigns against high profile Tory MPs like Boris Johnson, Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan-Smith, Tory efforts to unseat Tim Farron, Alex Salmond and Angus Robertson, and various other MP-specific targets, it is clear that parties and voters enjoy the opportunity to target individuals with a record they dislike. Under PR systems it becomes much more difficult for individuals to be specifically targeted, as strong MPs will be placed high up the list or placed in seats where the number of members elected is sufficiently large that they would be safe without a massive landslide against them. If we believe that all MPs should be accountable to voters, whether they are the Prime Minister or a backbencher, then we need a system where all individuals are directly elected, essentially eliminating all but the more complex and unworkable of list-based systems.

Additionally, useful studies from AMS systems (where there are both list and constituency MPs) shows that constituency-based MPs are more likely to attempt to influence policy which benefits their constituents, whereas list-based MPs tend to attempt to influence policy which benefits their party’s chances of re-election. What we see from this is that FPTP systems tend to produce MPs who better represent and respond to the interests of the electorate; whereas the only way for list-based MPs to secure their positions and gain promotions is to back the party and the party-line. Therefore, constituents are more likely to be able to successfully lobby their MP in a constituency system, as MPs are more representative and accountable. FPTP provides the smallest constituency size of all possible constituency systems and therefore gives individual electors the most influence over their representatives.

FPTP is also the best system for localised campaign issues. With larger constituency sizes, it becomes more difficult for independents and single issue local campaigners to secure sufficient votes to take office and to be able to fundraise sufficiently to campaign across an entire electoral district. Even the most successful single-issue campaigners under FPTP can struggle to get upwards of 20,000 votes, which would massively limit their ability to get elected in larger constituencies. Likewise, local campaigns with the support of 1,000 or so voters are likely to be much more successful in influencing an MP with a smaller number of constituents than one with a larger number, enabling ordinary people to start campaigns and influence policy, rather than having to rely on more professionally organised campaigns.

Another benefit of FPTP is that it tends to produce strong and stable governments. Whilst this has not, admittedly, been the case in two of the last three elections, majoritarian systems like FPTP have a solid record of delivering majority governments. Why is that a good thing? Well, we’ve seen the popular outcry at the compromises required to make a Conservative/Lib Dem coalition and a Conservative/DUP confidence and supply deal work in 2010 and 2017 respectively. People don’t like compromise on manifesto commitments that they voted for in Britain. If we stick with FPTP then there will be fewer scenarios whereby a major party has to sacrifice key sections of its platform to form a government.

So why don’t people like First-Past-the-Post?

One of the most common arguments against FPTP is that it incentivises tactical voting by supporters of smaller parties and thereby unfairly disadvantages those groups. This is because FPTP generally creates constituencies where historically between one and three parties have had a shot at winning the seat. What it doesn’t take into account is a simple premise: if voters voted for the party they supported, rather than tactically, then a smaller party might become viable in a specific seat. As that is the case, it seems that major parties have done a fairly good job of campaigning for those votes, particularly given the fact that a number of smaller parties have won seats after sustained campaigning under FPTP. Furthermore, a quick glance at AMS elections finds that the number of votes gained by parties in the constituency and list ballots tend to not be particularly dissimilar, suggesting either that tactical voting isn’t a particularly significant problem in constituency seats, or that tactical voting is not dependent on the system being used.

Indeed, there also doesn’t seem to be a credible argument that tactical voting is specific to First-Past-the-Post at all. If the conditions are the same under an STV or AV system then it doesn’t seem any less likely that a voter would vote for the one of the major parties that it preferred. Ranked systems are easily manipulated by tactical voting, whereby voters give their least favoured majorn party candidate the lowest ranking and bump the most likely candidate they can support up the list so as to prevent their least favoured candidate from achieving office. Likewise, in a list system with a threshold there is still a similar incentive for voters to misrepresent their preferences in order to achieve the least-worst realistic outcome. If a voter typically votes for a party that falls below the threshold, there seems to be no reason for them not to cast their ballot instead for their favoured major party, in order to increase that party’s chances of winning more seats, as they would under FPTP.

Finally on tactical voting, it is worth considering systems like AMS where there are constituencies and then top-up lists. Constituency seats are obviously going to be subject to the same tactical voting pitfalls as FPTP, so the only plausible difference here could be in the list system. Lists are prone to tactical voting naturally, as mentioned above, but they have an additional problem under top-up seat systems, which is that larger parties generally do disproportionately badly from the top-up list than smaller parties. Therefore there is a huge incentive for voters to cast their ballots for small parties allied to their major party preference, in order to increase the number of seats gained by their favoured ideological grouping, but creating yet another distortion of preferences.

Representativeness is the other main argument against FPTP, that is to say that the number of seats allocated to parties tends to vary quite significantly from their proportion of the national vote. This is a fairly strong argument that is difficult to rebut. Often it results from local disparities and is therefore difficult to put right with regionalised list systems. The only viable solution for representativeness would be a national list system, but that would be incredibly problematic for individual legislative accountability and lobbying on local issues. If people would prefer poorer accountability and representation in favour of a feeling of Parliament being more representative, then there is a conversation to be had. But if people feel that representatives representing them is more important than them being representative of them, with the policy-making benefits that come with it, then FPTP is the only choice.

Other criticisms of FPTP include the fact that votes are wasted, which is again true to an extent, but this is true for nearly every electoral system. Under list systems there are thresholds, under ranked systems the second preferences of small party voters are considered but major party voters’ ranking preferences are wasted – this is more an issue with the fact that in a democracy someone has to lose an election than FPTP being a bad system. Another criticism is that it creates an effective elective dictatorship with large majority governments, but given the increased accountability every MP has to their constituents under FPTP, poor policies are unlikely to get through Parliament, regardless of the size of the majority.

So, what are the alternative systems?

There are closed and open list systems, both of which promote party loyalty amongst representatives over constituency representation, without solving the problems of tactical voting and wasted votes. There is AMS and other mixed-member proportionality systems, which have exactly the same problems as the list systems, but with extra confusion and more wasted votes, and the problems of collusion whereby major parties campaign for minor parties that they are allied with to mop up the maximum number of top-up seats and create a massive majority. Then there are the ranked voting systems like AV and STV, which give extra weight to the opinions of small party voters, who get eliminated first and encourage tactical voting to an even greater extent than FPTP (rankings mean that voters can place a greater distortion in their preferences to negatively impact their least favoured of the major parties). Ranked systems are also much more complicated than FPTP, which brings massive educational and infrastructural costs in implementation and management.

Overall, FPTP is a simple, effective, cheap system which leads to better local representation than any other. Electoral systems that enable good representation are far more important than ones that are solely about representativeness. We need a system that balances those two goals, but if we have good representation everyone gets represented, regardless of whether or not they voted for their MP.

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.