Category Archives: UK Affairs

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Religion, Society and the Woolwich Murder

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture.

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[dropcap]O[/dropcap]n Wednesday 22nd May, the brutal murder of Lee Rigby in Woolwich shocked Britain. To state the obvious, the murder was unjustifiable and downright sickening. Nobody would make any attempt to contend that point, and nor would anyone, of sane mind, begin to attempt to justify the actions of the killers. Undoubtedly, the death of anyone is a humbling event and the tragedy in loss of life cannot be questioned. Yet, over the course of just 24 hours I’ve heard a host of opinions on the matter – none of which, in my eyes, come even close to exactly what the worst thing about this whole thing is.

I don’t have any plans to entertain the opinion of racists, or those who stereotype and discriminate in the most uneducated way. For the most part, I think Britain is in agreement that the killers do not represent any faction of Islam – the notable exception being the so-called English Defence League (whose overwhelming membership can be summed up by a delightful video). An opinion that I have found to be extremely common is one that emphasises the harmful role of religion. In this respect, I fully agree; religion has unparalleled power in the lives of ‘believers’. It must be stressed that this is the case in all religions: Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, and indeed Islam. By virtue of the sheer profundity of their beliefs religious followers have the capacity to be further indoctrinated – and so extremism is born.

Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people. (Karl Marx, Contribution to the Critique of Hegel’s Philosophy of Right, Introduction, p. 1, 1843)

If you had to make a list of quotes that had been overused, misquoted, and taken well out of context, Karl Marx’s reference to religion would be high up there. Few understand that Marx’s critique of religion is not actually that – it is a critique of society. People are quick, and perhaps with reasonable justification, to criticise the role played by religion for a variety of reasons: a) religious extremism fuels the majority of terrorism, b) religion advocates a number of prejudices and outdated laws, and c) religion highlights the incompatible blend of cultures. Religion does all these things, but what if religion is the symptom rather than the disease?

Why is it that, in a country as educated as Britain, that people choose to ignore scientific evidence and subject themselves to the subordination of a deity or scriptures? In the less economically developed world religion acts as an outlet of hope, born out of intrinsic necessity in such insufferable conditions. Thus, the only discernible conclusion to make is that the fulfilment gained from social bonds and interactions is inadequate; people turn to religion as a result of a broken society. In all respects it is true that the madmen who acted so horrifically in Woolwich were not acting out on the behest of social shortcomings, but their initial turn to religion was probably because of this.

The continued belief in religion is a symbol of the failure of multiculturalism; immigrants, and their subsequent families, are feeling like outsiders in the country they have chosen to call home and subsequently turn to things they know to be familiar in their own culture. It is a damning indictment of British society and social policy, that religion takes precedence over a British national identity. Never has it been more evident, than from the thick British accent of a terrorist, that certain communities are becoming isolated and alienated from the rest of British society. Obviously, this is not a justification for terrorism – I can only place that as a consequence of immoral, unscrupulous thinking, if not outright insanity. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for people believing in what they want to believe, it just shouldn’t come at the expense of national pride – British togetherness. It is a sad fact that, because of our broken society, notions of national belonging and identity play second fiddle to religious beliefs.

Religion did not cause the events of Woolwich. However, if religion had not existed – if the killers had been secular, it would have been hard to imagine the barbaric murder of a soldier taking place, as it happened.

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Photo Credit: Mig_R

HMS Ark Royal

The Falklands: Logistics Of A Former Empire

The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

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It has been over a month since Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner called for the United Kingdom to give up the Falkland Islands to Argentina. While this could have been nothing more than an attempted distraction by President Kirchner from a multitude of domestic issues, the dispute over the islands is constant background noise for both countries. In the meantime a referendum on the future sovereignty of the islands is scheduled for March  and the cultural issues are well documented. What this latest uptick allows is an opportunity to look at the logistics of fighting on the other side of the world and the role of aircraft carriers in modern conflict.

During the Falkland Islands conflict in the 1982 the UK deployed two aircraft carriers and a sizable military fleet to the South Atlantic. Since then the end of the Cold War and shifting priorities changed the composition of military forces for both Argentina and the UK. There is ample research comparing naval forces from 1982 and today but the lack of an aircraft carrier for the UK in particular remains a concern and was was seen as a disadvantage during the intervention in Libya. The lack of a mobile platform to launch aircraft contributed to a more expensive conflict as RAF sorties were flown out of Southern Europe. The end result was longer flight times, fewer missions and higher fatigue.

With the exception of facilities in the Falklands, the region is as far away as the UK can get from friendly bases.   minus the facilities it maintains on the island and it won’t have the benefit of numerous local allies ready to allow the use of their airfields and support facilities. While the UK has added significantly to the units deployed in defense of the island, airfields are an easy target to find

Even today, during a gap between carriers, questions remain about the functionality of the ships in development. The two carriers in development lack functionality that existed during the first Falklands Island conflict, functionalities such as aerial refueling that are essential for long term engagements. The first of the two carriers isn’t expected to undergo sea trials for at least a year, with 2017 being the earliest date that it is expected to enter service.

Several English pundits believe that in the event of a Falklands Island conflict France should come to the support of the UK in reciprocal support of French operations in Mali. The situations are in no way similar–one is defense of what it views as its territory while the other is fighting against Islamist terrorists. Immediately at the end of the Cold War, outside of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, international involvement in localized conflicts was focused in the Balkans. Since then Mali, Libya, Afghanistan, Yemen, and possibly Syria are just the latest countries with international involvement.

Some of these conflicts are within striking distance of NATO bases, others are not. These conflicts are not limited to one region; counter terrorism operations continue in the Middle East, South Asia, North and Central Africa, and there remains concern of Latin and Southern America turning into battleground areas. The majority of the UK’s history has revolved around its naval resources and the ability to engage anywhere in the world. The march of technology as well as the lack of air support limits the actions that the UK can participate in for the foreseeable future.

The United States is the only country that has currently has the resources for not only multiple carrier deployments throughout the world but other operations as well. The future of this is at risk due to the budget issues ping-ponging around Washington. The result for the world’s largest naval power is uncertainty as long term stability and planning for the future changes day-by-day as politicians announce they have ‘fixed’ one problem only to retract their statement hours later. Even if the number of operational U.S. carriers decreases their ability to deploy anywhere in world remains a powerful tool.

What turns aircraft carriers into into a truly formidable force are the carrier strike groups and support craft. By themselves, carriers are offensive weapons and have limited operations. Strike groups combine a carrier with a mix of frigates, destroyers, supply ships and other vessels. These ships ensure non-stop aerial operations while protecting carriers from land, air, and sea based threats. Under its current makeup, the Royal Navy while smaller than it used to be but still maintains a modern efficient force and has all of the pieces of a carrier strike group in place minus the carrier.

The next round of predictions on how the Falklands Islands turns out won’t be able to start until after the referendum in March. Until then, the UK needs to identify how it projects its power and defends its interests abroad.

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Photo Credit: Mike Cattell

Counter Terror Expo 2013

CTX 2013

Counter-terrorism it has become big business. In recent times the growth of an entire terrorism-industrial complex has developed around the real, and perceived, threat of terrorist attacks. This type of fear driven commercial activity raises all manner of ethical questions, not least in terms of maintaining the ‘threat-level’ in order to sell more products. Often however, the counter-terrorism industry is not the Neo-con monster it is perceived as, but can provide the impetus for fresh innovation and research, as well as driving the development and emergence of new technologies, many of which have far grater scope than their original remit and benefit society at large.

A stark illustration and interesting case in point is that of the forthcoming Counter Terrorism Expo (CTX) event at the Olympia, London on 24th and 25th April 2013. This is an amalgamation of conferences, workshops, and trade shows, bringing together an array of private and public organisations all with a focus on security and counter-terrorism. The event hosts a number of features including (but not limited to) the Cyber Security Conference and Solutions Zone – focusing on the strategic analysis of cyber security for governments, critical national infrastructure, and private corporations. CTX brings together representatives and professionals from police, emergency services, government, military, intelligence and security services, private sector, oil and gas, cyber, maritime/anti-piracy and critical national infrastructure. It provides a platform for some the leading suppliers of integrated security solutions with a full trade show and workshop programme concerning themes such as intelligence reporting and analysis, investigations and detection, video management and CCTV, blast protection and resilience systems, CBRE protection and suppression, armoured and support vehicles, and command and control technologies.

Far from being adverse to this, I believe a multi-solution approach to security is absolutely essential for a dynamic, intelligent response to security threats and a holistic appreciation of the sector. Indeed, I would like to see events like CTX in the future go a step further and also include scholarly presentations from appropriate academic institutions, like the Jill Dando Institute at UCL or the War Studies Department of King’s College London. This would not only complement the professional experts and workshops discussing operational strategies, but also provide sober political and risk analysis, and allow practitioners access to the most up-to-date research from across the field. Nonetheless, with 400 exhibitors and an audience of over 8,500, CTX 2013 will no doubt prove to be a unique showcase for emergent technologies, equipment, and services in the security sector.

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Photo Credit: counterterrorexpo.com

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Euro-sceptic? Eur-so-silly

David Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future.

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Today Prime Minister David Cameron declared he is set to make negotiations with the EU in relevance to treaty changes and the euro. As you would expect from a politician (especially a Tory), Cameron is presenting us with a more tactical, underlying negotiation which is quite simply, “A vote for Conservatives in the next election is a vote for an in/out of the European Union referendum.

Last month, Anti-EU party UKIP increased its share of the vote from 6 per cent to 9 per cent. This rise in popularity massively reflects the British populaces increasing intolerance of the EU, and a prime reason for this is the general attitude towards immigration. Take for instance YouGov’s latest poll for the Sunday Times, which revealed, rather unsurprisingly, that 67% of people believe that immigration has been a ‘bad thing for Britain’ with the second majority, 18% believing it has been ‘neither good nor bad’.

It was Gordon Brown who coined the term ‘British jobs for British workers’. In 2011, the Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) produced a report that made the headlines; take for instance the Daily Mails’ choice, ‘Migration is killing off jobs: 160, 000 Britons have missed out on employment because work was taken my foreigners’ – not quite the snappy title I was hoping for. Alongside Brown’s pledge, this outbreak of outrage in the media was symbolic of the increasing mass hostility towards immigration. One could even argue not only did it encourage public opinion towards the topic, but created it too. Nonetheless, the subject of supposed scandal here is as shallow as scandal gets. Firstly, a job is a job – I’m not quite sure what makes it British. (According to Chris Bryant, this is ‘hospitality construction and agriculture’) . More importantly, the allegation that immigrants ‘fill the limited vacancies which exist in the fragile UK economy’ is pure fiction. This is the lump of labour fallacy; the notion that there is no such thing as limited jobs.

Then again, these are the type of people complaining about “no jobs”.

The article goes on to manipulatively inform its readers that immigration is ‘full of loopholes, such as an exemption for so-called “intra-company transfers”, which allow firms to bring in thousands of their existing staff from abroad’. It is absolutely absurd to undermine the act of bringing competently skilled workers into the British labour force a “loophole” in immigration policy, considering that is a chief beneficiary of immigration.

Cameron believes the best way to create a democratically accountable Europe is for the British population to vote on whether they want to be a part of it or not. He says, “It is time for the British people to have their say. This will be your country… a choice about your country’s destiny.” Other than sounding like Uncle Sam encouraging young American boys to sacrifice themselves in the name of war, it is utter rubbish. Whilst Nigel Farage has successfully infiltrated popular opinion through highlighting the costs of the UK’s EU membership, the government has failed to educate the British people on the benefits.

The only source the British people of this “democracy” have to base their views on, are newspapers – the most popular being subliminally fascist tabloids such as the Daily Mail. Cameron’s speech is a mere publicity stunt instrumented to falsely ensure us of democratic legitimacy, through making it seem as though we all have a choice over our country’s future . Well, democracy doesn’t mean shit when the people don’t know shit.

It is time for UKIP, the Tory’s and the like, to realise that leaving the EU may cover the odor of the turd that this situation is, but it certainly won’t stop the UK from being in a faecal matter.

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Photo Credit: dimnikolov

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What Noughties Labour Left Behind

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership; Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded.

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One of the key defences used by both Prime Minister David Cameron and his deputy Nick Clegg is that obstacles such as the deficit have been left behind by the Labour Party and must be ‘cleaned up’ by the Government. Cameron used his first House of Commons speech as Prime Minister to emphasise this argument, and it has remained a frequent response to criticism from the opposition during Prime Minister’s Questions. However repetitive this argument might be, the coalition’s desire to emphasise the inherited failings of its predecessor is politically understandable. What is more curious is Labour leader Ed Miliband’s apparent enthusiasm for doing the same thing.

Upon assuming the role, a new party leader might be expected to give a speech or two in which, by criticising old policies or established members of the party, they attempt to create a sense of renewal and innovation. But Miliband has repeatedly introduced Labour’s record – and, in his view, its failings – into the discourse on numerous issues over the course of his leadership. There have been frequent admissions by the Labour leader regarding the mistakes he believes were made by his party’s government. According to Miliband, Labour was wrong on issues such as the economy, immigration and Iraq. Leaving aside what one may thinking about Labour’s previous approaches to these and any other issues, it seems reasonable to wonder why Miliband is so keen, insistent even, on reminding everybody about his party’s failures, real or perceived.

It has been suggested that Miliband’s recent remarks to the Fabian Society, which took a similarly apologetic approach, are part of an ‘attempt to distance himself from elements of the last government’s record considered toxic by many strategists.’ While it is important for Miliband to be honest and self-critical about his party’s shortcomings, there is something self-defeating about his constant referral back to New Labour’s record if his aim is to disassociate himself from it. These kinds of apologies can be useful in the first year or so of opposition as a way to rebrand, but after three years out of power, Labour needs to focus on establishing its new approach and produced a clear pitch to the electorate about its policies. Labour’s Policy Review should eventually shed more light on the tangible elements of the party’s approach, but Miliband should nevertheless emphasise the future rather than dwell on the past in the meantime.

Of course, Labour has already made policy suggestions on various issues, but these often focus on ‘learning lessons’ and accepting hard truths about Labour’s past efforts. For example, on immigration, Miliband told the Fabian Society that during the premierships of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown ‘high levels of migration were having huge effects on the lives of people in Britain – and too often those in power seemed not to accept this. The fact that they didn’t explains partly why people turned against us in the last general election.’ And on the economy: ‘One Nation Labour has learnt the lessons of the financial crisis. It begins from the truth that New Labour did not do enough to bring about structural change in our economy to make it work for the many, not just the few. It did not do enough to change the rules of the game that were holding our economy back.’ In these remarks, Miliband is trying to demonstrate the heightened self-awareness and self-improvement of ‘One Nation Labour’ in contrast to the old and often mistaken ‘New Labour’. Yet this ploy, along with the attempt to play down Labour’s record by giving it extra attention in speeches, treats the electorate with little respect. Voters remember New Labour, favourably or not, and they will not be convinced that there are no similarities at all between the brands ‘New’ and ‘One Nation’ any more than they will forget the successes and limitations of Blair and Brown.

Perhaps most disappointing, however, is that Miliband and his strategists seem to have assumed that the argument over New Labour’s record was lost along with the 2010 election. Indeed, Miliband’s tone contains none of the positivity exhibited by his predecessor in the last days of the 2010 campaign, during which antipathy towards the party was exceedingly high. Despite Labour’s damaged image at the end of thirteen years in power, Gordon Brown retained a sense of pride in his party’s accomplishments in this speech, without any of the obligatory qualifiers and ‘howevers’ that seem to accompany the current leader’s reminiscing monologues. Both the content and the delivery of Brown’s speech demonstrate that celebrating New Labour’s record is politically credible and potentially convincing. Even if Miliband feels morally or politically obliged to remind everybody of how poor he believes Labour’s performance has been in the past, he should also feel more confident about celebrating such political events as the minimum wage, the renovation of thousands of schools or the cancellation of developing world debt.

Ed Miliband sometimes sounds like he’s running against Tony Blair for the leadership rather than against David Cameron for the premiership. To correct this, Miliband’s speeches should emphasise the persistent values at the heart of his party and the principles on which it was founded. Crucially, he should not be afraid ask David Cameron what the coalition is doing to maintain and build on the progress in healthcare and education left behind by the Labour government.

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Photo credit: Policy Network

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UK Data Bill: A Direction For Future Debate

In the present climate of uncertainty over privacy, creating proportional laws that strike the right balance between national security and liberty has become increasingly difficult.

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Communication Data has always played a major role in police investigations in democracies across the globe. Knowledge of who spoke to whom, when, and how has played an important role in preventing, detecting, and averting crime. In the ever-changing technology landscape of today, online surveillance has become a major part of police investigations. However, in the present climate of uncertainty over privacy, creating proportional laws that strike the right balance between national security and liberty has become increasingly difficult.

Over the past few years, numerous efforts have been made by the government to enable easier and effective web snooping. Every now and then, the government attempts to increase the powers of law enforcement agencies in acquiring such data, however it is often put on hold in the face of heavy protest. The government’s efforts emerged again in April this year as the Draft Communication Data Bill, with renewed plans to order telecommunication companies to store online communication data (defined as subscriber, use and traffic data). It has yet again faced a severe blow from two Parliamentary Committees that undertook a brief pre-legislative scrutiny of the draft Bill, UK telecom players, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) and a whole range of foreign technology and media companies – most of whom have been consulted by the Committees. However, the Intelligence & Security Committee (ISC) also questions if the legislation will solve the problem of the present capability gap.

The Joint Committee report – which hit upon the three P’s: privacy, price and proportionality – has made several useful suggestions to the government on how and why the government should consider redrafting the bill. The report has been extremely critical in a) pinpointing the misleading price tag of £1.8 billion presented by the Home Office, b) clearly stating the lack of proportionality within the bill that would threaten privacy and free expression, and c) predominantly insisting that the language of the Bill needed an urgent update, reflecting upon the written evidence submitted by The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos. However, the damning verdict provided by the Joint Committee provides sufficient direction for future debate.

Following severe criticism from some MPs and peers, Prime Minister David Cameron has agreed to redraft the bill. If the government adopts a revision of definitions of communication data and if fewer agencies were authorized to access and use of such data, it is highly likely to help the government strike a balance between security and liberty. Further, putting the public at the heart of the Bill, the Committee realized the necessity to develop a new hierarchy of communication data, upgrade existing definitions and divide them into categories that suggest the level of intrusion of each type of communication data.

As the Home Office looks at ways to redraft, here are my suggestions for future debate:

The need to analyze implications of the bill for the general public

According to a recent Google Transparency Report, government surveillance across the world is on the rise, but the UK government has only made 1,425 requests for users’ data as opposed to US which has made 7,969 requests. However, the general public is unaware of what online surveillance there already is, and how such intelligence is used by law enforcement and security agencies. However, according to a recent survey by YouGov commissioned by Big Brother Watch, nearly 50% of Britons consider the bill to be bad value for money. It is essential therefore to engage in a data dialogue with the public in order to educate them and address their major concerns.

The need to understand public attitudes towards privacy and surveillance

While there are numerous studies on public attitudes towards data sharing, there is barely any full-fledged study evaluating public attitudes towards privacy and online surveillance in UK. While the above mentioned survey reveals that 71% of Britons are concerned over data-security, we are still unaware of public awareness of the surveillance, data protection and related confidence in the UK government.

The lack of clarity around Deep Packet Inspection (DPI)

Several governments and Internet Service Providers (ISPs) including United States, China, Iran, Russia and Kazakhstan are using DPI for a variety of reasons. ISPs in Ethiopia and Denmark have recently joined the list. While governments predominantly use DPI for censorship, ISPs use the technology to make Skype calls and YouTube videos play smoothly, stop viruses, dividing signal strengths and a variety of other reasons. In 2009, the US government in fact tried to introduce a privacy legislation to prohibit the use of DPI for behavioral advertising. Leaks from the UN International Telecommunications Union reveal Orwellian proposals towards implementing a DPI standard that will allow governments to snoop at a worldwide scale. As the argument about UK being the only democracy to be using such draconian measures fails, further investigation into the use and applicability of DPI becomes vital.

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Photo credit: striatic

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Marriage Equality & The Government’s ‘Legislative Boot’

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic.

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Responding to government proposals on the implementation of marriage equality earlier this week, Conservative MP Richard Drax stated in the House of Commons, ‘I would like to ask the Secretary of State and the government what right have they got, other than arrogance and intolerance, to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’ It is in an attempt to safeguard religious institutions from legislative intolerance that the government made its announcement this week that the Church of England will be prohibited from performing same-sex marriages should they be introduced.

Maria Miller, the Culture Secretary, explained the policy in Parliament, stating, ‘European law already puts religious freedoms beyond doubt, and we will go even further by bringing in an additional “quadruple legal lock”. But it is also a key aspect of religious freedom that those bodies who want to opt in should be able to do so.’ Despite this mention of the opt-in, one of the four parts of the ‘quadruple legal lock’ includes legislation explicitly preventing the Church of England from carrying out same-sex marriages. This threatens to inhibit rather than ensure religious freedom for religious institutions wishing to marry same-sex couples and risks alienating religious individuals in favour of equal marriage.

It would seem that the government has failed to distinguish the many shades of difference of opinion within the Church of England and in Wales on the issue of equal marriage. The assumption that same-sex marriage is necessarily oppressive to religious groups as though they are a monolithic whole can be dispelled by looking at both the Church of England and the Church in Wales, prominent members of which have expressed disappointment in the last week over the government’s announcement.

The Bishop of Leicester, Tim Stevens, as well as a spokesperson for the Archbishop of Wales, Dr Barry Morgan, have both criticised the apparent lack of consultation regarding the ‘quadruple legal lock’. But in her address to Parliament, Maria Miller said, ‘Because the Church of England and Wales have explicitly stated that they do not wish to conduct same-sex marriages, the legislation will explicitly state that it would be illegal for the Churches of England and Wales to marry same-sex couples.’

Even if prominent figures within either Church had indeed articulated this ‘explicit’ opposition to equal marriage during the consultation period, Miller’s reasoning for the plans seems too simplistic, not only in light of the variety of views on equal marriage among religious individuals but also given its many proponents within the Conservative Party itself. Just last week, the Telegraph reported on a group organised by key Conservatives including London Mayor Boris Johnson and Education Secretary Michael Gove in support of same-sex marriage within religious institutions. Prime Minister David Cameron has also announced that he favoured equal marriage within the Church.

These complications are making it easier for outright opponents of marriage equality, such as those within the Catholic Church, to more easily undermine the government’s progress on the issue. In response to Miller’s announcement, a statement released by the the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales said that the government’s approach ‘can only be described as shambolic’ and went on to complain that, ‘There was no electoral mandate in any manifesto; no mention in the Queen’s speech; no serious or thorough consultation through a Green or White paper, and a constant shifting of policy before even the government response to the consultation was published today.’ Arguably, the response among outright opponents of equal marriage was always going to be negative, but confusion over the legal impact on religious institutions widens the scope for further criticism and doubt over the government’s competence over the issue.

By proposing to implement this restriction on the Church of England and Wales, the government risks alienating those religious people in favour of equal marriage and provides further ammunition for its opponents, many of whom now claim that legislative developments on the issue have appeared muddled and erratic. In an attempt to prevent equal marriage from being forced upon religious institutions, the government now suggests that the Church should be forced to turn same-sex couples away. Religious believers who support equal marriage may now be inclined to ask of their government, ‘What right have they got to stamp their legislative boot on religious faith?’

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Photo credit: renaissancechambara

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What Did The Leveson Report Achieve?

So what did Leveson achieve? A wounded tabloid industry will be even more likely to push the boundaries of responsibility to keep its head above water. The Leveson Report was another warning that we have a free press but not a responsible press.

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After the publishing of a damning 2000 page report and the testimonials of over 600 witnesses, the press begin their eighth attempt in sixty years at self-regulation as part of a self-serving collective the public cannot trust. It is, therefore, worth asking what contribution the Leveson Report will make to the future of the press.

What is currently ongoing could become one of the greatest collective deceptions from the tabloid press in their entire chequered history. The Leveson Inquiry, greater in its scope, mandate and impact, should produce a radical outcome in comparison to the Calcutt report and the three Royal Commissions.

The creation of a new body is likely to be overseen by individuals the public just cannot trust. Even if those in the press can get everybody as part of the same regulatory body, it is unclear how or why they should influence future behaviour. Who passes judgement on these judges, scares these scaremongers, or limits the limitless? With some cross-party and cross-industry discussion it is possible to achieve the necessary enforcement and freedom balance. This is exactly what Lord Leveson proposed – a new regulatory body that is truly independent of industry leaders and of government and politicians. That is why he proposed a statute to enshrine the freedom of the press and protect their independence from government, something rarely discussed in the wider argument. Yet, the principles are being defaced by a political campaign on certain front pages which makes the prospect of objective and balanced news reporting farcical.

Nobody claims Denmark and Ireland (both of whom have statute backed regulation) are at the centre of a despotic plot to overturn cherished press freedom. Nick Clegg made it clear that “The Daily Mail, the Daily Mirror, the Daily Star, The Sun, The Sunday Times, The Mail on Sunday and the Sunday Mirror are all members of the Irish Press Council -they all publish Irish editions. I have not yet heard those papers complain of a deeply illiberal press environment across the Irish Sea.”

Nor is it the case that the press’ action should have been covered by law. The treatment of Christopher Jefferies, subjected to a vicious caricature relating to the murder of his tenant Joanna Yeates, did not break any laws. Sienna Miller (although apparently an acceptable target because she seeks fame?) was not protected by law when she was chased down alleys at midnight by groups of men because they were carrying cameras. Kate McCann was not protected by law when she was “mentally raped”, having her most private thoughts stolen and published. Minorities have no voice in law when they are the victim of “discriminatory, sensational or unbalanced reporting”.

It is also unsurprising that David Cameron has adopted the tactic of delay and the language of the long grass. With one swift decision he puts himself in a prime position for favourable reporting come the next election. The support may not be as fawning (he upset many proprietors and journalists by agreeing to the Inquiry in the first place) and because of their tarnished reputation papers may not matter as much in 2015 as in previous elections. Yet it will certainly give a boost to the Conservative campaign and disrupt Labour and the Lib Dems as they attempt to fire fight trivial and often malicious stories. The sensible approach for Ed Miliband would have been to analyse the findings of the 2000 page document and make his own amendments. However, Miliband had to draw all the political capital he could from the issue and that meant drawing definite dividing lines immediately whilst it was still in the public mind. It was even more misguided for Cameron to admit the implementation of any recommendations as long as they are not “bonkers,” knowing that Leveson was looking at the Irish model of regulation and that statutory underpinning was a possibility.

And to those that say all this doesn’t matter anyway. Yes Leveson was one bloated historical exercise when it was receiving witnesses, raking over past misdeeds in order to make recommendations for the future. And yes, in years to come it will be probably become even more historic as the struggling industry limps at the feet of its greatest rival, the monolithic internet, bound to be almost insignificant and poorly read in dead tree format in a few decades time.

That does not mean it did not matter or nothing needs to be done. It has been said by some commentators that the process is finished and that every witness was exploited and wasted their time. However people’s opinion of the press has changed forever, their despicable actions vividly displayed in full public flogging. If anyone ever trusted the press before, less will do so now. And if Labour wins the next election the principles could well be back on the table.

So what did Leveson achieve? A wounded tabloid industry will be even more likely to push the boundaries of responsibility to keep its head above water. Leveson was another warning that we have a free press but not a responsible press. Without the latter we can not have free people, free from the possibility of having their personal lives turned inside out on a whim. And we also need to use it to learn about ourselves as individuals. What knowledge we consume, where it comes from, its prerogatives and how morally abhorrent some of the people are that feed us.

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Photo credit: Gwydion M. Williams

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The Episcopal Question: The Role Of Women In The Church

The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment.

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The General Synod’s failure to grant women the right to episcopal equality in November has ensured that the long-debated issue over women bishops will remain vociferously debated among believers for years to come. The problem is considerably important, not only to the faithful but also to British politics and society, in a number of ways. Firstly, as Terry Sanderson, President of the National Secular Society has argued, the Synod’s vote is further evidence that the Church of England is not an appropriate political mechanism with which the state should be constitutionally intertwined. Sanderson highlights that denying the privileges and opportunities associated with the Church according to gender – a public institution – is a policy incompatible with the British government and its laws. However, secularists must be cautious before rushing to criticise the Church as a whole for the failures of its evangelical minority.

The Houses of Bishops and Clergy overwhelmingly approved consecration rights for women, while the House of Laity was short of the two-thirds majority required by six votes. While there is some considerable conflict between the evangelical and moderate wings of the House of Laity, it is appropriate to say that the Church as a whole has decided to support women in their pursuit of episcopal equality. Indeed, figures in the church have grown increasingly critical of the Synod’s voting system in light of the influence such a small opposition seems to have had on the result of the vote. In this case, it would seem that the theology and faith of a minority within the church has acted as a barrier to the wishes of the majority, in detriment to the pursuit of wider well-being for the believing community. This presents a fundamental problem for religious institutions that must be dealt with honestly and soon. Secular institutions have no divine mandate to separate men from women or to promote men above women, but the minority of evangelicals opposed to episcopal equality insist on deferring to God, who has apparently decided that each gender must have ‘different roles’ in the Church as in society. It is this deference that has prevented women from enjoying the same opportunities as men within the Church.

The struggle for equal rights in the Church serves as a reminder that religious belief is no guarantee of moral superiority or social foundation, precisely because of residual traditionalism and the sway still afforded to hardliners. The suggestion by Eric Pickles that we should ‘embrace the religious character of our nation’ – both that of the Church of England and of Catholicism – cannot be taken seriously when the Church’s long struggle to grant equality to its own members is kept in mind. Moreover, the wider hypocrisy of Christianity’s claims to moral authority is reinforced whenever we hear of some or other cleric’s spiteful remarks about homosexuality and marriage equality. Some may argue that opponents of equal marriage and episcopal equality take their positions for moral or spiritually important reasons, but who can measure the pain and frustration caused by these remarks and the petulant obstructionism than accompanies them? Are we really to say that these enduring struggles are evidence of a divinely inspired belief system?

Justin Welby, the incoming Archbishop of Canterbury, expressed his dismay following the House of Laity’s decision, tweeting, ‘Very grim day, most of all for women priests and supporters, need to surround all with prayer & love and co-operate with our healing God.’ These remarks mean well, but they highlight a lack of understanding as to the fundamental conflict between secular equality and religious privilege. If those in favour of episcopal equality are to eventually triumph in this particular struggle, they must speak honestly about how the debate emerged in the first place. The nature of the Church’s enduring internal disagreement is the consequence of a belief, perhaps now held only among a few extremists, that an omnipotent authority has made demands of the sexes and that to ignore his will is to invite punishment. Secular institutions are unshackled by such beliefs and can make moral decisions based on human compassion without heavenly guidance. Given the largely male-dominated focus of religious doctrine and the kinds of authority it prescribes, it is no coincidence that religious institutions such as the Church of England are forced to grapple as they have with the prospect of powerful women.

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Photo credit: Alan Stanton

Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

The Peculiar Influence Of The Church of England

Given the influence of the Church of England and the claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, its new Archbishop has a responsibility to provide a transparent account of his views so that they can be properly scrutinised.

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Big Ben and Westminster Abbey

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While it is often said that the United States is politically and socially religious to a considerable extent, it is worth remembering that it is constitutionally secular. The Establishment Clause of the First Amendment protects the right of every religious group to practice their faith privately, while ensuring that no one group receives advantageous treatment over others via funding or expressions of support from the state. It has also allowed for the establishment of non-religious executive, legislative and judicial branches of the US government, each free from the prejudices inherent in theocratic systems. This luxury, however, is not afforded to British citizens, who are instead expected to accept that the clergy of the Church of England, the dominant sect, will sit in the legislative house adjacent to that of the country’s elected representatives. Moreover, the monarch rather than the Prime Minister is the ultimate head of state and of the state religion, and while this intimate relationship between our democratic and royal institutions is often viewed as little more than a benign tradition, it remains a potential risk to political representation and social equality.

One of the by-products of this fusion of church and state has been the prominence of the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose commentary on social and political issues is often given a generous amount of coverage in the media. Dr Rowan Williams, who is now stepping down from the post, has frequently commented on issues ranging from economic justice to western foreign policy. However, while Dr Williams is entitled to express his views on these and any other issues, his responsibilities as a political as well as a religious figure mean that his opinions deserve the same critical scrutiny afforded to other political leaders.

Dr Williams’ suggestion in 2008 that elements of Islamic law should be accommodated in the UK provides a useful example of why this scrutiny is so important. While ultimately inconsequential, these comments nonetheless reflect claims about the nature and development of the judicial system. They also reflects a need among advocates of church and state cooperation to accommodate numerous religious groups, in a similar sense to the proposed inclusion of multiple faith representatives in the House of Lords. On the surface, such suggestions may seem to appeal to representation and fairness, but in reality they reinforce the exclusion of minor faiths and unbelievers while empowering major religious traditions undeservedly. Avoiding this discrimination is one of the main advantages of the US political system, which, instead of trying to cater for numerous faiths, separates all religion equally from the state. Far from constituting oppression of religious freedom, this method succeeds in preventing it. Crucially, Dr Williams’ comments on Islamic law suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury is not only a participant in political discourse but can also seek to influence and develop it in ways that other religious and non-religious individuals cannot.

This unique influence can also be seen in religious resistance to equal marriage. On its website, the Church of England describes ‘the enduring place of the established church in providing marriages that have full state recognition,’ and has also claimed that marriage equality could threaten religious establishment in the UK. Moreover, Dr Williams’ replacement Justin Welby has maintained his opposition to equal marriage while simultaneously offering a vague commitment to re-examining his views ‘prayerfully and carefully’. In light of this, it is clear that while religion in the UK may resemble a ceremonial oddity, the views of leading figures on the validity of marriage could have a direct impact on the civil rights of individuals in society. These individuals, as well as advocates of an equal and fair legal system, deserve better than ambiguous spiritual statements of reflection and prayer from the leadership of the Church.

The political prominence of this leadership is indicative of a constitutional framework that places one religious doctrine above all others and insists on fusing it with the operations of the state. This structure is more than a mere historical peculiarity, and exists in opposition to the ideals of a modern and inclusive democracy. Given the potentially tangible influence of the Church of England, and the bold claims it makes on issues such as the law and equal marriage, Justin Welby has a responsibility, not only to religious believers but to every citizen, to provide a clear and transparent account of his views so that they may be properly scrutinised.

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Photo Credit: Better Than Bacon

We Are Norwich March 2012

A Rough Week For The English Defence League

Their leader is arrested.  Low turnouts at Norwich rally.  A hacked website.  Abu Qatada released from UK prison on bail.  Despite these shortcomings, don’t count the English Defence League out yet.

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Life has been stressful for English Defence League supporters lately. Troubles began for them in early October when the young and charismatic poster boy for the movement, Tommy Robinson, resigned from his position as joint deputy leader of the British Freedom Party. He explained that he wished to focus his energy on the EDL, which he stated is where his true passion lies.

Just a week and a half later, Robinson was arrested in his Bedford home by the Metropolitan Police Service for attempting to use a fake passport to enter the United States in early September. Currently, he is being held in HMP Wandsworth, awaiting trial in January 2013. As expected, the EDL community has rallied behind Robinson’s cause, and are planning a rally on the 24th November outside the prison to bring awareness to his cause.

Though the month of October has been difficult for leaders of this polarising movement, the past week has stirred up additional anger, stress, and disappointment . Three demoralising events have kicked the soapbox out from under the feet of those aiming to keep Britain British.

1. The March on Norwich

A march organised by the EDL for the 10 November was meant to protest a decision made by the Norwich City Council to ban Pastor Alan Clifford, after it was discovered that he was distributing ‘hate-motivated anti-Islam pamphlets’. The Norwich community rallied around the council’s decision, and a coalition of 25 community groups organised a counter-protest called We Are Norwich, stating their goal was to fight back against fascism and racism.  Reports from 10th November state that We Are Norwich protesters outnumbered EDL protesters by about 2000 to 200. A year and a half ago, EDL protests in Blackburn drew numbers closer to 3000. While EDL leaders called the protest a success, one wonders if the sharp decrease in participants is solely due to geographical reasons, or a diminished constituency.

2.  EDL website overtaken

On 9th of November, the English Defence League’s website was hacked by an organisation entitled the Z Company Hacking Crew (ZHC). The hacked homepage now states “Fuck Zionists! Boycott Israel! Fuck the American Government! Fuck fascist organizations like the EDL”.

EDL website hacked November 2012

The ZHC posted a video in mid-October, threatening the EDL that they were planning an attack website and justifying their actions by describing the injustices of EDL ideology, entitled #Op EDL. The attack has continued since the hacking of their website. The second phase of their exposition on the EDL, called #Op Racism, includes a leaked list of male EDL financiers, released on the afternoon of the 13th November (The EDL has responded to this release, stating that the donor list is outdated). A description of ZHC’s motivations is listed on their YouTube page, stating “We Hack/Deface for a reason, our reason for defacing is to raise awareness of the issues in the world with a main focus on Kashmir & Palestine.”

3. Abu Qatada denied deportation

Despite attempts to have Muslim cleric Abu Qatada deported to Jordan, a UK court denied this request after discovering that witness evidence uncovered using torture would be allowed. On Tuesday 13th November Qatada was released from prison in  Worcestershire on bail after spending most of the last ten years in UK custody. The case has cost taxpayers more than £1 million as of 13th November, and lawyers are estimating that before the trial is officially over it will cost at least another £1 million. Facebook groups supporting the EDL and Robinson have rallied around the cause, stating the injustice of the British legal system, with followers stating:

“England’s justice system should be ashamed!”

“ its not our country anymore, they have taken over it, and the govenment have let them, they take in all the waifs and strays of the world, just what have our grandparents fought for in 2 wars, jack shit. THEY SHOULD BE ASHAMED.”

“I would love to know how much of tax payers money has been wasted on him over 7 years just for him to walk free to go home and carry on claiming his benefits justice what justice it no wounded he always got a smile on his face”


Morale is low amongst EDL followers, yet they have much to look forward to. Diminished numbers at the Norwich rally give the appearance of diminished support, but a robust Facebook and Twitter community have rallied around these three recent incidents. The turnout at the rally in favour of Robinson in two weeks will be an indicator of the remaining motivation and passion for poster boy Robinson’s cause. Similarly, the results of his trial in January will have an impact on the movement, no matter the outcome. On one hand, if Robinson remains imprisoned, he might turn into martyr for their cause, creating greater unity amongst the organisation’s multiple factions. Yet one wonders who will fill the gap of the charismatic leader at local rallies and events. Robinson’s tendency to incite anger from local Muslims instills greater passions from both his followers and his critics; without his polarising presence the British public may lose interest in understanding the EDL’s beliefs.

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Photo Credit: Roger Blackwell 

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Why Rewrite The Communication Data Bill?

The Communication Data bill has the potential to provide safety to individuals, albeit without putting their liberty at stake. A more nuanced approach by the government that aims to have more regulated surveillance can certainly win back public support.

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If recorded and retained for a year, your communication data can disclose a more personal picture of you than the content of your communication in isolation.

An email without details of sender and receiver can barely give sufficient clues about your personal life; but details of who, where, when and how you communicate can certainly paint an extremely intimate picture of you. Yet this is the kind of data that the proposed Communication Data (CD) bill – often referred to as the ‘Snooper’s Charter’ – looks for.

If passed, the bill will give the government and intelligence agencies new powers to gather and retain communications data – across email, Facebook, Twitter, other social networking sites, online gaming and other forms of Internet communication – of the entire UK populous for a year or more. While the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) of 2000 established a certain level of intrusiveness for gathering certain kinds of online communications data, the new bill seeks to provide more flexibility and greater powers to allow access to an unusual proportion of data being shared by the public with numerous telecommunication providers across the globe.

The bill will force technology companies to retain data that they would not otherwise hang on to for business benefit. It is expected to come up in the next Parliamentary session, among severe opposition from privacy groups. However, it is planned to reach the statute book only by 2014.

Right from the time RIPA was passed, privacy groups have always felt such powers hardly had much to do with tackling serious crime or terror. Instead they recognized that it allowed the police to unduly harass people and undermine their privacy concerns. However, the current Communication Data bill, which aims to give greater powers to access a wider range of data, has barely reflected a clear understanding of privacy concerns and the levels of intrusion that might arise from collecting different kinds of communication data.

Privacy is one the most contested issues in British Law. Outside Article 8 of ECHR, which offers an extremely general definition of privacy, there isn’t any clear legislation protecting the privacy concerns of the public. Though there hasn’t been any new law altering the nature of privacy in terms of contextual reference, ‘public’ attitudes towards privacy have altered over the years. There have been numerous circumstances when an individual’s privacy has been breached by government and other agencies. Yet even as recently as March 2012, a senior committee of MPs ruled that Britain does not need any privacy law.

In the current climate of active data-sharing, measuring the online privacy anxieties of the public has been extremely difficult. Even so, the current feverish environment surrounding the draft bill has barely allowed for a full-fledged analysis of public attitudes towards the bill. However, there is no substantial evidence to prove that the government has actively sought to understand public concerns, even in the days of RIPA.

Before I get into the problems of the draft bill, it’s certainly worth mentioning that I think we’re all, in one way or another, strong supporters of government’s surveillance methods in catching criminals. Our concerns emerge only when the government unduly seeks data and disproportionately miscalculates the data gathered. Ben Franklin’s words clearly reflect the current problem at hand: ‘They, who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’

The Communication Data bill has the potential to provide safety to individuals, albeit without putting their liberty at stake. A more nuanced approach by the government that aims to have more regulated surveillance can certainly win back public support. Home Secretary Theresa May recently recognized the need to redraft certain parts of the bill during her evidence before the Joint Parliamentary Committee of peers and MPs. However, my central argument would be that the government should consider doing a great deal of re-writing to address the major concerns surrounding the bill – although only after gathering more evidence from the general public. The Joint Committee has taken great pains in seeking evidence from telecommunication providers, think tanks, privacy groups, and technology journalists; however what it lacks is a poll on public opinion on the bill itself. Here are a few reasons why the government should consider a revamp of the bill, to improve its chances of acceptance considerably.

The need for adopting a ‘Sliding Scale of Intrusion’ to reassure public: The Centre for the Analysis of Social Media at Demos recently submitted written evidence to the Joint Committee indicating the ‘potential harms the bill can pose, their seriousness, and how the government can better manage public’s privacy concerns.’ The central argument of the submission was that ‘the levels of intrusion and the resultant level of warranting, oversight and legitimate reasons with regard to RIPA are no longer legitimate with the draft Communication Data bill.’ As the bill seeks to collect and retain a diverse range of CD – which in some cases are private (for instance, geo-location), the government should consider taking a more ‘nuanced scale’ to reassure the public.

The lack of restriction on what can be snooped and how it can be used: The bill’s vaguely defined usage restrictions have a tendency to confuse the public at times. The bill defines the different kinds of communication data it seeks to collect – use, subscriber and traffic data. However, considering CD has a wider scope in the current digital environment filled with fast-changing technologies, the bill demands finer definitions, so the public is aware of the extent to which government intrudes into their privacy. A more transparent approach and a much regulated access by the government can definitely ensure that the UK doesn’t turn out to be the first ‘police state’ in the likes of China, Iran or Kazakhstan, that undertakes such draconian measures to gain access to CD.

The restrictions on which intelligence agencies or local bodies can access your data are vague: The two biggest problems with the CD bill, that are so far left unaddressed, are (a) the exact count of government agencies which will have access to the data, and if so who they might be and (b) how much of such personal data is likely to be shared with other governments for purposes of national security. While the government should consider including clauses that might allow easier ways to profile a likely agency that might be able to gain access, it should also simply follow the existing RIPA guideline: ‘the more serious the intrusion, the fewer agencies can do it, and for fewer purposes.’

Striking a balance between privacy and national security: Though the need of the hour is a wiser, narrower bill, it remains an intractable problem to create rules to ensure data-sharing in a trusted environment. Sharing public concerns can certainly help rebuild trust and resilience in communities. To ensure this, it is high-time the government engages the public to understand the different attitudes towards the draft bill.

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Photo Credit: Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com 

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Are Protests A Complete Waste Of Time?

As the NUS prepares for another round of protests on the 21st of November, one can only ask whether it is a waste of time or a vital action that may lead to positive results.

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20th October 2012 saw one of the largest protests in recent years. Titled “A Future That Works”, around 150,000 students, activists, politicians and other members of the public filled the streets to voice their disapproval and anger at the public cuts, welfare budget cuts and against austerity measures put forward by the Coalition government. Additionally the protest aimed to change the way politics works in Britain. Their objective is to create a nation which pays workers a living wage, where bankers do not get high bonuses, where the government ensures the inequality between the rich and the poor is shrunk.  These objectives are not new and throughout the years citizens have demonstrated against their government’s policies in hope of change. But does change ever come?

Undoubtedly some protests can have devastating effects on the governments. The Arab Spring is a perfect example of small scale marches turning into full-blown revolutions which resulted in regime change in Tunisia, Egypt, and Libya. Protests have also had a positive impact in America where slavery and segregation were abolished thanks to the protests and marches organised by Martin Luther King. Finally, Gandhi had an innovative idea of protesting – peaceful non-violent civil disobedience which led to the independence of India from the British Empire.

However, recently a large number of people have claimed that protests do not achieve anything and looking back over the last few years it is understandable why that is the case. Almost a million marched against the war in Iraq in 2003, yet the march did not prevent the invasion. Thousands of students marched against the rise in tuition fees, yet once again the results were unsuccessful. One has to also ask what the Occupy Movement has achieved over the last year except media coverage.

Evidently some protests and marches achieve their aim and some do not. Perhaps one explanation for this could be the cause of the protests. While most marches have some validity, one can argue that marching against authoritarian regimes and against slavery and segregation is far more important than marching against a tuition fee rise or austerity measures. In addition, some of the causes which have been successful are quite objective. Anyone with any sense of morality would agree that racism, slavery and life under a dictatorship is wrong and thus it was inevitable that change would eventually come. Austerity measures, education cuts and even the invasion of Iraq are issues which are less clear cut and can be viewed as rather subjective.

Does that mean that less important matters should be left untouched by activists and protesters?  Absolutely not: the secondary aim of marches is to illustrate the dissatisfaction of citizens against a particular policy and additionally to spread the narrative among the public who may not be aware of the damage these policies may be causing. This is exactly what the protests against the invasion of Iraq, against the tuition fee rise, and the most recent austerity march has achieved: the illustration of anger at the government and widespread media coverage attracting others to the cause.

Let us also not forget that student demonstrations can be very effective. For example, thousands of students took over the university as part of the uprising of the Polytechnic University of Athens. As a result the military junta stormed the university gates using tanks. The outcome was the killing of many students by the dictatorship, however, a few days later a nation-wide uprising took place against the junta. This demonstration resulted in the creation of the famous legislation known as the Students Asylum or Academic Asylum. This law was introduced to protect freedom of thought and expression on campuses in 1982, when memories of Greece’s repressive military dictatorships of the late 1960s and early 1970s were still raw.

So where does this leave modern day protests and marches? As the NUS prepares for another demonstration on the 21st of November, one can only ask whether it is just another waste of time or a vital action that may lead to positive results. From the examples given in this article it is clear that many marches do create change, regardless of whether it takes weeks or years. In addition these marches can achieve much more than transformation of the society. They can ensure the government is well aware that their citizens are not prepared to stand back and let the establishment make unpopular choices. Demonstrations keep the government on their toes and ensure politicians are always accountable for their actions. For these reasons, protest and demonstrations are vital ingredients of our political system and have an intrinsically important role to play in society.

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Photo credit: Selena Sheridan

Prison convict trapped society

Prisoners Should Be Allowed To Vote. No Question.

The answer to preventing criminal re-offenses lies in ensuring that criminals serve their sentences, but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

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Prison convict trapped society

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A brawl is brewing between the European Court and the Coalition government in Britain. The former wants to implement a law which allows the prisoners to have a vote during elections, while David Cameron has defiantly said during Prime Minister’s Questions that the prisoners will never get the vote under his government.

It may perhaps seem like common sense that prisoners should lose their right to vote. After all, they have lost their right to freedom due to committing a crime which has in some way disadvantaged the society, thus they should have no say in the shaping of the society. Nevertheless such a judgment is not truly thought through properly. The purpose of putting criminals into prison is twofold: to protect the community and to hopefully punish the criminals so that they will not re-offend again once they are out. However, Britain has an appalling record of criminals who commit crimes repeatedly. 1 in 3 people who appear before a judge have committed on average 15 crimes before. It is obvious that the search for the holy grail of turning criminals into lawful citizens is still lost. I believe that one of the reasons for this is the fact that prisoners become completely alienated from society once in prison. One may argue that this is the whole point of imprisonment, however is it not essential, and more important to ensure that criminals do not re-offend. One way of preventing re-offenses is to ensure that prisoners do not feel segregated from the rest of the country. Unfortunately, preventing prisoners from voting is doing just that. By taking away the prisoner’s freedom to play a role in who governs the country, society is sending a message to prisoners that he or she is no longer part of that society. This undoubtedly will lead to the feeling of isolation and, in due course, re-offending. After all, following the convict’s freedom from prison, why should he or she feel the need to abide by the law when he or she feels psychologically distanced from the society which made these laws?

If the British government wants to see the figures for re-offending diminished, then the country as a whole should not treat prisoners like sub-class citizens or animals, but instead treat them as citizens who deserve to serve their punishment, but still have a vital role in shaping society. If Britain allows prisoners to vote, it will at least psychologically ensure that the prisoner feels welcomed and senses some compassion which hopefully will ensure he will not re-offend again once the freedom is given back to him.

The debate on whether criminals should be punished or rehabilitated has been discussed for many years now. I believe the real answer does not lie in whether the government disciplines them harshly or treats them as “sick” people who just need to be cured with care just like one is cured from a common cold. The answer lies in ensuring the criminals serve their sentence but never lose their perception that they are still citizens of a nation, and should act like one when they come out of prison.

Whether this method will be effective is undoubtedly debatable. However as the government is yet to find away to curb re-offending, perhaps this method should at least be given a thought.

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Photo Credit: Alakhai85

Female students clubbing in London

Survival Of The Fittest Students: It’s ‘Fucked Up’

It is not imperative for students to mold themselves, but there is tremendous pressure in order to do so; it is not essential for girls to expose their cleavage to the extent it looks like a bum crack in order to engage in a sexual experience.

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Female students clubbing in London

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Backed by Loaded, Nuts and Zoo magazines, Carnage claims to be the ‘UK’s BIGGEST AND No.1 Student event’. After an outcry of rage and protest in response to the event’s 2012 theme ‘Pimps and Hoes’, it was a relief to know I was not alone in believing there was something a little off about casually associating “lad mags” with students.

I wanted to know why Carnage chose this theme, so I contacted the Head Office. Their media team responded as follows:

The fancy dress themes for our events are chosen by the students and not by us. The selection process is conducted via social media polls in June and July of each year. This year, students across the UK, which includes the students in all cities, have chosen “Pimps and Hoes” as the fancy dress theme for their first event and “Beauty and The Geek” as the fancy dress theme for their second event.

Whilst there has been some criticism from a small minority of individuals in connection with our “Pimps and Hoes theme”, we would like to point out that attendance at our events, is of course, entirely voluntary. If that small minority do not like our themes, we would kindly advise that small number of individuals not to attend our events and to seek alternative social events.

What is worrying here is that events like Carnage are not the problem, they are merely providing an outlet for the problem. The true issue is that the excuse to dress up provocatively is a student demand. Whilst every individual is absolutely entitled to clothe their bodies in their desired apparel, what needs to change here is the motivation behind the way we may choose to dress.

The practice of females dressing in a sexual way purely to get attention from the opposite sex is quite frankly, relatively fucked up – according to Charles Darwin. His exploration of ‘sexual selection’ discovered that a number of male animals necessitated certain types of attractive characteristics in order for them to successfully reproduce. Peacocks with the fanciest feathers for instance, attracted mates more easily. The brighter a rooster is coloured, the likelier he is to get laid (or, preferably, get another bird laying – I apologise…). Similarly, deer with the largest antlers attract mates most easily.

With humans, there has seemingly been a role reversal in who has to look the most appealing in order to attract the opposite sex. For students in particular, although the motivation is rarely for mating purposes, the sexual element axiomatically remains.

University is a jungle of young, vulnerable animals trying to find themselves, and the sexualisation aspect is only one major pressure that they increasingly face. Its role has evolved from an academic institute, into a social milieu of competition; who can drink the most alcohol without being sick? Who can consume the largest combination of drugs without being hospitalised? Who can get off with, or sleep with, the most girls during fresher’s week?

Do you have to be a “fittie McVittie” to survive University? No, but it often feels as if it is a necessary characteristic to achieve social acceptance. Of course there is an argument that invokes the bigger picture, which is the conviction that that’s just the way it is in life – physically attractive people winning at the cost of the less attractive. But the reason the focus of change here is on students, is because students really are the instrument through which the future can be played.

When I was living in halls in my first year, a particular flat mate was extremely inconsiderate and highly disruptive. Regardless of me expressing how his behaviour entailed negative externalities, he insisted he didn’t feel bad or the need to apologise because he was “just living the student life”. If the majority play this game to survive by accepting that this is merely the expectation of a student, then how will it ever be an environment other than one that promotes unpleasant, competitive behaviour?

It is certainly not imperative for students to mold themselves into a certain stereotype in order to survive university, but there is tremendous pressure in order to do so. It is not essential for girls to expose their cleavage to the extent it looks like a bum crack in order to engage in a sexual experience. It is also not compulsory to immerse yourself in the alcoholic binge drinking culture. But what the representatives for Carnage said pretty much embodies the entirety of the point I am making here, that being “If that small minority do not like our themes, we would kindly advise that small number of individuals not to attend our events and to seek alternative social events.” In other words, if you do not want to behave like the majority of students, then quite simply you cannot be a part of the “normal” student community.

At university Social Darwinism is merely superficial smoke and mirrors, for if the fittest are all subjecting themselves to carnage, then surely the only survivors are those who opt not to take part in the first place.

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Photo credit: used with permission / theriskyshift.com