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.

Lessons from the Dutch General Election

The far right Party for Freedom came second in last week’s Dutch general election, but lessons should be taken from their last minute collapse.

The often euphoric reaction from moderates to a far right political party with one member and no government funding coming a distant second in an election in a Benelux country – just over ten years after the aforementioned party was founded – seems out-of-place. There are now resilient far right movements in many European nations, and the fact that one of them has now become the second largest party isn’t something to celebrate – even if there was a chance they might have become the largest. The rise of the PVV is a sign that mainstream parties need to sit up and take notice of the far right, and ask themselves why these movements are gaining so much traction.

Article continued on Leonards Review.

The Scotland Question: Theresa May’s Four Options

The announcement that Nicola Sturgeon thinks a generation lasts five years was an unsurprising one, and it leaves the UK in an interesting position. With it seeming inevitable that the SNP minority government will be able to force their referendum demand through Holyrood, here’s a look at the four options that faced Theresa May yesterday at Westminster, before she ultimately decided to delay until at least 2020.

1) Don’t allow Scotland to have another referendum.

The surest way to guarantee that Scotland doesn’t vote for independence would, on the face of it, seem to be simply saying no to letting them vote. Sturgeon’s argument for a second ballot seems weak – coming 907 days after Scotland last voted, it doesn’t seem particularly justified to say that Scotland hasn’t been given the choice on independence – and the opinion polls have shown opposition to both independence and a second ballot remains stronger than support for them, meaning that the political implications behind rejecting Sturgeon’s proposal seem to have a net positive. Furthermore, it is certainly an achievable policy: three-line whipping the Conservative and Unionist Party’s MPs would produce a Westminster majority capable of vetoing the referendum.

However, the long term implications of preventing a vote could be significant. Blocking the SNP would incense nationalists and might lend some credence to their traditional ‘Westminster aren’t listening to us’ rhetoric. If the SNP become more determined and are given ammunition, then a Holyrood majority in 2021 seems likely, and by then SNP rhetoric will have had time to convince swing voters.

Verdict: Potentially not desirable, as it energises the SNP’s ranks and gives legitimacy to their arguments, but it would solidify the Union in the short term.

2) Call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold a referendum in autumn 2017.

Support for independence and for a second referendum is low, meaning that the likelihood of a referendum victory for the Union is significantly higher if we hold the ballot sooner. If Theresa May had decided to call Sturgeon’s bluff and hold the vote early it would catch the SNP off guard and wouldn’t give them the time required to convince voters around to their cause. This is particularly the case given the difficulties the SNP have had making clear what exactly an independent Scotland would look like.

Furthermore, an early referendum has some major benefits to the UK. It would reduce the effect that the threat of Scottish independence has on Brexit negotiations and a vote to remain in the Union would strength the PM’s hand immensely. Moreover, it would contain uncertainty and prevent a more significant period of uncertainty impacting on the economy between now and 2019. Lastly, a defeat to a Unionist campaign led by Ruth Davidson would increase pressure on Nicola Sturgeon and potentially topple the SNP minority government, leading to a Holyrood election between a delegitimised SNP and a resurgent Tory Party, and the potential for a much more significant hung parliament in Scotland.

Verdict: Desirable, victory seems much more likely sooner, but may impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

3) The Sturgeon option: referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019.

This is a terrible plan.

To elaborate slightly more, Nicola Sturgeon has played a very clever game with this particular option. Any move to hold the referendum at a different time will strength Sturgeon’s argument to an extent, as it will be seen as Westminster dictating Scottish policy, but in this case it is a much more desirable option than any other. If it is held at the end of the Brexit process then there are a whole manner of negative implications for the UK – the threat of Scottish independence if the UK gets a bad deal will significantly strengthen the EU’s hand, as it inserts an increased significance into Theresa May’s ability to threaten to walk away without a deal. The EU will know this, and if ever there was a bargaining chip that the UK cannot afford to allow the EU to hold, it is one as significant as secession.

It would also raise a further dilemma: failing to provide detailed information on the nature of the Brexit deal will increase uncertainty around Brexit and may push swing voters towards Scottish independence; on the other hand, providing detailed information would severely reduce the timeframe that the UK government has to complete a complex series of negotiations, and would involve the deal being finalised before the referendum, reducing the ability of the UK to secure a good deal.

Finally, it gives Sturgeon over a year to whip up nationalist sentiments and change the course of current polling. It provides a longer period of time for economic fluctuations to make the result more uncertain. It also increases general uncertainty and flattens markets at a time when we need uncertainty to be as minimised as possible.

Verdict: Political suicide.

4) Make Sturgeon wait for a mandate.

Agreeing to hold the referendum in 2021 would seem a logical move from the Prime Minister. Brexit negotiations will be long done by then and the UK will have borne out any uncertainty caused by it and be in a stronger position – additionally, other than option 1, this seems to be the option that would have the least impact upon the aforementioned negotiations. Furthermore, strengthened by a likely general election victory and the probability of some more Tory MPs in Scotland, it will enable the 2021 Holyrood election to be an essential referendum on the referendum – if the Scottish Tories can position themselves as the credible Unionist alternative to the SNP, then we could see a strong showing for them and a decreased mandate for holding the referendum in the first place.

The problems of leaving it until 2021 are largely ‘what if’ scenarios. If Brexit has a larger economic impact than expected, it could decrease the power of the economic pro-Union arguments. If the SNP are able to increase support for an independent Scotland (or simply get their act together), a 2021 referendum might produce a tighter result. But these are largely unpredictable – overall, it seems likely that this will be the option chosen, giving the SNP an opportunity to prove they have a mandate in a Holyrood election, and providing a solution which does not impact upon the Brexit negotiations.

Verdict: A generation seems much more likely to be 7 years long.


Options 2 and 4 seem to be the most likely to maintain the Union, while allowing Nicola Sturgeon to have her needless ideological pontification. Of the two, option 4 seems more favourable, given that it will have the least impact upon Brexit and the future that Scotland voted to be a part of in 2014. That reflects the decision the Prime Minister seems to have come to – if there is still demand for a referendum in 2020 and beyond, then it seems likely that it will be held in 2021 after the Holyrood elections. With a primary concern being the Brexit negotiations, options 2 and 3 have been ruled out so as to prevent the potential for an independence referendum to cast a shadow over the PM’s hand. Whether the PM ultimately chooses option 1 or option 4 is as yet unclear, but when making her decision this week she seems to have fallen down on the side of the latter.

The Case Against Freedom of Movement with Europe

Free movement of people within the European Union is often held up as a bastion of modern liberalism. This article starts with a single premise upon which the argument that follows is based: the idea that there is (however high or low you set it) some maximum limit on immigration which is desirable in any given year – whether that number is 100 million, or 10,000, the argument holds simply under a pragmatic assertion that it is desirable to have some upper limit on immigration.

The question that follows then, must be: what is the fairest system to determine who can enter the country? Whatever form this system takes, traditional liberal values indicate a number of crucial criteria it must fulfil. There must be a fair and equitable chance for all people who apply to enter the UK to be successful. Most importantly, there must be equality before the law: an ideal, fair and just system of immigration doesn’t take into account your race, gender, or (and here’s the crux of the problem) your nationality.

Just as it is wrong for Donald Trump to issue an arbitrary ban on people from a specific country (or, in the case of his campaign rhetoric, a specific religion), so it is wrong to give preferential treatment to some people over others, simply because of the passport that they hold. The very same people who have been quick to call out Donald Trump on the illiberalism of banning the citizens of seven countries from entering the United States have been less keen to address the hypocrisy of supporting the latter position, indeed, calling the alternative policy illiberal, or xenophobic, or racist.

There’s but one simple problem in the European Union model of immigration: free movement of people means that, if you accept the condition previously outlined about a maximum upper limit, people from 27 countries are prioritised over those from the other 169 nations. This passport discrimination, whereby you give people from some countries a privileged immigration system compared to people from other countries, is inherently illiberal as it violates that crucial condition of equality before the law. If you believe that people from Europe should possess such a privileged position with our immigration system, then by all means continue to support free movement with Europe and a more closed system with the rest of the world.

On the other hand, if you believe that all people, regardless of their result in life’s first great lottery, should have equality before the law in our immigration system, then you have one of two choices. You can choose to defend and advocate free movement of people from all countries, which seems to have significant practical and pragmatic limitations (not to mention violating the condition previously set out); or you can choose to advocate a position that would see all people face the same system of immigration, regardless of whether they come from Berlin or Brazzaville.

It doesn’t seem a fair system to say that someone from Europe should be prioritised over someone from one of the other 169 nations. Ultimately that is the main problem with a liberal justification of free movement of people within the European Union, in that it creates a situation where people are judged initially by their nationality in whether or not they can live and work in the UK. If we end free movement of people, it doesn’t mean that there has to be less immigration – the debate about how high or low the desired level of immigration is still has to be made – but it does mean we will have an inherently fairer, more just immigration system, that looks at who people are and not where they are from.

An immigration system which emphasises equality before the law seems to be the only fair, just, and liberal system. An immigration system which considers people on who they are and not the flag they were born under seems to be the only reasonable, non-discriminatory, and liberal system. An immigration system where your result in life’s first great lottery doesn’t improve or decrease your ability to live and work in the UK is the only justifiable one.

Populism Doesn’t Mean What You Think

Populism has become a synonym for ‘movement that we don’t like’ in the weird political universe of 2016/17. The truth is though, it isn’t some malevolent force which guides despots and dictators into power and herds the people towards some destination with lies and deceit, populism can be defined in many ways, but broadly it is this: a style of politics which aims to mobilise the population against a government controlled by an out-of-touch elite who only act in their own best interests – alternatively, a simpler version of populism is simply to support the concerns of ordinary people, or to in some way aim yourself at ordinary people.

When you say ‘I want to fight rising populism’, what you are actually saying is one of: ‘I believe the government is controlled by an elite, and I’m fine with that’; ‘I don’t believe there is such a thing as the political class’; or ‘I don’t think the government and political groups should support ordinary people or attempt to appeal to them’. If you agree with one of those statements, then feel free to keep using the word ‘populism’ in your rhetoric, because you are using it correctly. If you find yourself disagreeing with all three of those statements, then unfortunately, you are actually a populist.

The biggest irony of populism is that it is usually used as a negative term by those who mean other people’s populism. As an example, Tony Blair has recently launched an organisation to fight populism. Tony Blair, the man who swept to victory on a platform of mobilising the population against a government he depicted as controlled by an out-of-touch elite who were acting in their own best interests, through a mechanism of supporting the concerns of ordinary people and appealing to their interests. Or as it is commonly phrased, populism.

Another irony is any supporter of Jeremy Corbyn describing populism in a negative way. Populism is Corbyn’s ideology of choice – indeed it is the ideology that has represented the notion of opposition in the West for nearly one hundred years. Yes, it can often be used for negative means, but that is not a reason to bash the concept.

The irony of the Left using the term ‘populism’ in a negative fashion is particularly acute: anyone who has ever used the words ‘bourgeoisie’ and ‘proletariat’ unironically is a populist. People who wish to fight the dominance of the 1% or who believe that government shouldn’t be about decisions being made by powerful elites in backroom deals are populists, plain and simple. Karl Marx was definitely a populist, it is essentially the ideology that founded Left wing ideology, it is the ideology that guides it, and the opposite of populism is supporting a government which is out-of-touch with popular sentiments and doesn’t work in the interests of ordinary people. A Left wing example of a non-populist government might perhaps be the Soviet Union, but then again, the Left would probably argue that wasn’t real socialism, because of course, real socialism is populist.

When the opponents of Donald Trump denounce the fact that his election represented some populist uprising, with their protests which seek to mobilise the population against an executive they see as being an out-of-touch elite acting for themselves, they seem to be unaware of the irony. The Women’s March and the various other protests that have occurred since the inauguration of Trump are textbook examples of populism at work – the reason they are acceptable to those who denounce populism is that they are ‘good’ populists, but that doesn’t hide the fact that they are a populist uprising.

The thing about populism is that most populists don’t self-identify as such, and yet nearly everyone in politics is a populist. A politician who cares about the problems of ordinary people is a populist. A politician who believes that government should follow the will of the people is a populist. A politician who doesn’t believe government should be about an out-of-touch elite making decisions in their own best interests is a populist. Whether they are on the left, the right, or the centre; whether their rosette is purple, red, blue, green, orange, yellow or any other hue, they are a populist.

Like most ideologies, populism can be a force for good, and it can be a force for bad. Like any political era, it remains important in 2017 to stand up and fight for what you believe in. Like anything, it does not make your argument better to use a word you think sounds sinister to mean something you want it to. If you have to insult your opponents, actually use the words that reflect what they are doing – if you believe that they are lying, call them liars, if you believe they are engaging in demagoguery, call them demagogues, but don’t make standing up for the opinions of ordinary people into a negative concept because it suits your personal political agenda.

When you say ‘I am fighting populism’, what you are saying is ‘I support out-of-touch elites ruling over us’. When Seb Dance MEP justifies holding an amusing sign behind Farage by telling us he wants to ‘challenge populism’, what he is saying is he wants to challenge attempts to make government work for the people. That may not be what you mean, but that is why you should use the right words to make your argument. If you wish to protest Trump, that is your right, if you wish to protest Brexit, that is your right, but if you do so by using the wrong words, your argument starts to look much less coherent, and much less convincing.

You probably don’t believe that the best government is one which is run by an out-of-touch elite against the interests of ordinary people, so stop saying you do. Populism doesn’t mean what you think it does, and you probably are a populist.

Dear NUS

Dear NUS,

I’d like to start this open letter by congratulating you on successfully building an organisation out of your echo chamber. For most people, that is merely a pipe-dream, but you have successfully transformed the Twitter feed of a member of the Socialist Party into an organisation of unparalleled incompetence. Whether you are arguing for the abolition of prisons, failing to condemn ISIS, or single-handedly attempting to overthrow the government, you are certainly consistent in leaving your main legacy: a student body largely disengaged with student politics. One of the highlights of 2017 so far has been your attempts to destress our exams by providing light relief in the form of a group representing students at UK universities bickering about the relative merits of Israel-Palestine.

As a student at a Students’ Union outside of the NUS, the motives behind this letter may at first be unclear (not of course, that I expect anyone at the NUS to read it, you’re probably too busy correctly asserting that Donald Trump is not, in fact, your President), but the problem with the NUS affects all students, whether we finance your grandstanding or not.

First off, you do not represent all students. That became abundantly clear last year, when several Students’ Unions decided to depart your organisation, but has also been the case for some considerable length of time: Southampton, St Andrews and Imperial are just three examples. You also do not represent all of the students over whom you govern. Only 731 people voted in the election in which Malia Bouattia became President of the NUS – while we cannot play with turnout in the fashion so often used after general elections to invalid the mandate of the group elected, it doesn’t seem unreasonable to assume this isn’t a particularly high percentage of your membership, given that your own website boasts of representing over 600 Students’ Unions. Additionally, turnouts for delegate elections seem (from a scan of Google search results) to be generally low, suggesting that you do not in fact represent many students in any real sense.

This is problematic, because your pretence of a monopoly on student opinions, and the fact that due to your position as the ‘National Union of Students’ you have the most recognisable voice, mean that when people look at you, they think that all students are like that, degrading the ability of other student campaigners to lobby the public and politicians successfully.

Secondly, and following on, your very existence makes student politics a joke. There are real, genuine, important student issues to be debating and discussing. Transport, accommodation, education quality. Important issues like equality and diversity, representation of minority groups and international students are vital areas that always need to be looked at and addressed. The problem is, when an organisation that pretends to represent students is busy talking about ISIS and prison systems, that takes time away from its ability to actually represent students, and it makes student politics even more of a joke than it often is already. The truth is, while you say that you exist because no one takes student issues and student politics seriously; no one takes student issues and student politics seriously because you exist.

When students look to their Unions, they want to see them representing them. That means all students. A Union which has representatives who actively talk about overthrowing the Conservative Party does not speak for Conservative students, and breeds on university campuses a mindset in Conservative-backing students that they should keep their heads down and not express the fact that they are Conservatives. The compounding of shy conservatism may not seem like a bad thing to you, but it is – it is a bad thing because it disengages a whole generation of students from participating in student politics and encourages them to adopt a mindset of not admitting what they believe in. That is bad for them, and it is bad for you, as the voice of the Left on student campuses, because if Conservative students won’t argue with you, then you will never be able to convince them of your position because you won’t understand theirs. While your construction of a monumental safe space for your views will be welcomed by yourselves, it just means that more people will be put off politics, and that more Conservatives will drift to a place where they will constantly vote against you, but you won’t know enough about them to convince them back.

Disengagement isn’t just reserved to politically-active students who disagree with you, but it also extends to those who were disinterested in student politics in the first place. Let’s put it like this: if you aren’t interested in politics, are you more likely to become interested by watching quiet debate and discussion which you can engage with, or by watching angry protests and gesture-politics? What all of this disengagement does is weaken your voice and strengthen your echo chamber. It also weakens all of our voices, as a student body, because there are fewer of us willing and able to stand up and fight for students.

Equally, your latest hair-brained scheme is to thwart the government by boycotting the NSS. As a student at a university which will not be boycotting it, I have a natural inclination to welcome this particular policy, as the likelihood is that my university will shoot up the league tables, but this is a policy which is deeply damaging for current and future students, and shows a level of muddled reactionary thinking which is (even by your own standards) deeply misguided. If students don’t fill in the NSS, then the value of their degree programme goes down, by simple merit of decreasing its position in the rankings. Additionally, the value of the degrees done by second and first years decreases, because the NSS is used by universities to make vital improvements to the way in which courses and programmes are delivered – failing to provide that feedback means you are inflicting second year students with existing problems in degrees. Finally, you are robbing future students of an opportunity to accurately assess their university options. As a body that claims to be for students, you are acting against them in this. Not only that, but it is amusingly ironic as an action. You don’t wish for the government to increase the cost of courses, so you are boycotting the NSS and thus decreasing the value of them instead – with either policy the cost per unit of the course goes up, you just feel better if it is the latter case.

If you want to overthrow the Tories, NUS, then set up a political party. If you want to abolish prisons, or not condemn ISIS, or have schisms involving Mossad, then please do them in your own time – I’m not saying that you shouldn’t be engaging in your politics, I’m asking you not to do it in the name of all students. As a student who is not in the NUS, I ask you not to degrade my ability to make a difference.

Stick to what you do best, facilitating grassroots campaigns and providing people with cheaper stuff. Leave the politics to the students.

Lessons from 2016

2016 has been a year which has challenged the traditional political consensus. Brexit was delivered against all odds – a victory for all those who had campaigned against the undemocratic nature of the European Union, the unfair system of immigration it created whereby people from 27 countries are prioritised over people from the other 169, and the restrictions on policy choices available to British voters at the ballot box that membership of the EU brings with it. That victory, in spite of the ad hominem insults thrown at Leave voters, should teach valuable lessons on how to conduct a campaign in 2017.

The ultimate difference between the Leave campaign and the Remain campaign was twofold: the Leave campaign was positive and optimistic; and the Remain campaign offered very little by way of emotive arguments. The oft-quoted phrase that summed up the referendum (and perhaps 2016 as a whole) was Michael Gove’s quip: ‘People in this country have had enough of experts’. This is not strictly true, but what is true is that people don’t respond well to simply being told they should support a cause because they should – they want to be given an emotive reason why they should back it.

2016 has shown us the need for political campaigns to make an argument that combines emotive and logical reasoning – it isn’t enough to simply assume that people agree with your positions, you have to persuade them to agree with you. Likewise 2016 proved, once and for all, that negative campaigning is ineffective – particularly if people don’t believe what you are telling them. Merely having the support of an ‘expert’ isn’t sufficient to win you an election, and likewise fear and negativity (the weapons of choice of the Remain campaign and Zac Goldsmith’s mayoral campaign) aren’t as impactful as a positive, optimistic message.

The election of Donald Trump also compounded the argument that governments need to do more to prove they are listening to the will of the people. While Brexit vindicates David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, as it proves the demand for a referendum was overwhelming more accurately than any opinion poll; Donald Trump is a reflection of an American establishment that has systematically failed to respond to its voters. Barack Obama was elected as a force for change in 2008, and so it was in 2016. Moreover, Trump’s election proved that insulting supporters of your opponents is unlikely to convince them to change their minds.

What does that mean for 2017?

The reactions of many to Brexit and Trump suggests they haven’t learn the primary message of 2016: voters need to be convinced of your position through discussion and debate, however objectively correct you think you may be. Those of us who believe in the value of democracy and tolerance have to work harder than ever to defend them.

2017 will see big electoral chances for Le Pen in France, Wilders in the Netherlands, and Alternative für Deutschland in Germany. Those fighting against them would do well to learn the lessons of 2016: when making the case against a populist demagogue, make it with passion, conviction and logic, and don’t insult those you are seeking to convert.