Radical reform is needed to the British education system; lowering the school-leaving age should be just the start of it

At the beginning of this year, the TPA’s John O’Connell highlighted the ‘sacred cows’ that Boris Johnson’s government need to slaughter to cut wasteful public spending. One of these sacred cows is the ridiculous requirement for young people to stay in education until the age of 18. Until 2015, children were required to stay in school until the age to 16, this not only gave them the freedom to choose their future but also ample opportunity to get onto the job ladder.

Since the Education and Skills Act 2008, there has been little debate in Westminster about reverting the school leaving age to 16. Nevertheless, the current system damages job opportunities for those looking to get into competitive workplaces. In fact, research by universities in Westminster and Bath in 2016 found that an increase in the school leaving age cost students, particularly those who intended to leave school at the earlier age and did not have a great interest in conventional education, up to £45,000 over their working lifetime.

This is because many of the qualifications acquired over the additional years are not crucial to the career that individuals wish to pursue, and in other cases, where individuals would prefer to enter the workplace, patience in education is wearing thin. I left school almost two years ago, and while many people thoroughly enjoy school, myself included, others drag their feet and are at times disruptive. Forcing them to stay in education until they are 18 removes the potential for them to flourish in a workplace environment and prolongs their perceived agony of school. Professor Alison Wolf told the government that these students were staying in education just to study ‘dead end’ vocational courses that add nothing to future workers job prospects and potentially leaves them even worse off when applying for jobs. 

Much of the government’s intention in increasing the school leaving age was to reduce the torrid youth unemployment figures, as well as the number of young people Not in Education, Employment or Training (otherwise called NEETs). However, the reforms have failed to deliver significant changes to either of these problems. Increasing the school leaving age may have been a quick fix to the surge in youth unemployment after the 2008 financial crisis. However, the youth unemployment rate before the pandemic stood at 11 per cent; this is only three per cent lower than in 2015 when the age extension was implemented. Similarly, the percentage of NEETs has only fallen by half a per cent since September 2015. In context, Switzerland and Germany, both nations who have lower school leaving age and encourage vocational careers, have far lower rates of youth unemployment than we do.

The government has also imposed unintentional restrictions on people who wish to take an apprenticeship scheme by introducing the Apprenticeship Levy. Its introduction requires the rate of half a per cent to be paid on employers with a payroll in excess of £3 million. Unfortunately, the inadvertent effect of the levy has seen reluctance for companies to take on apprentices. This is because the levy mimics tax on income and because it applies according to the size of the company, and not the income of the employee, low paid staff in large companies are harshly hit. Subsequently, there has been a reduction in apprenticeships. Apprenticeship starts fell by 26 per cent from 2015/16 to 2017/18. Thus, many young people will continue in education for a further two years without the opportunity to acquire qualifications or skills to benefit their future career. 

There is also an economic need to lower the education age. For many people who know what career they wish to pursue, staying in education holds back their potential to enter the workforce and given the shortages experienced in some sectors of the UK economy, it would be useful to enable willing 16-year-olds to fill the labour vacuum. In 2018, The Financial Times reported that hotels and restaurants, information and communication, and construction were the three industries facing the most significant labour shortages. This will only grow as the economic consequences of Covid-19 become even more apparent.

Finally, the taxpayer will benefit by reverting back to the pre-2015 school leaving age of 16 years. Further education costs the taxpayer £5,870 per student. Since it has been established how pointless many of these qualifications are to future workers, it does not appear right that the taxpayer is required to foot the bill for the 350,000 young people who do not benefit from the further education funding that they receive. 

Ultimately, forcing students to stay in education until they are 18 damages their career prospects, creates holes in the labour market and costs the taxpayer far too much money. If the current government slaughtered this sacred cow, then they would not only be supporting those looking to enter competitive workplaces, but they will actively counteract the economic problems facing Britain, whilst relieving the pockets of the taxpayer.

By J Walters

The State of the Union

Last week, Boris Johnson visited Scotland in a desperate bid to quash the growing demands for Scottish independence. This gave the team at The Gower Street Journal the opportunity to think about the future of the Union. Five members of the team have penned their response to what could be the biggest issue facing our country for the next decade.

Jack Walters: 

As I argued in my first article for The New Briton, the future of the United Kingdom has never been so threatened. Growing complaints of the constitutional settlement north of Berwick have ultimately provoked English indifference, and as seen recently, English opposition to the Union. Many English voters cannot understand why their Celtic cousins would want to end over 300-years of unity, or in Wales’ case 484-years of friendship. It is hard to argue with the contention that the English taxpayer and electorate have the roughest end of this deal, especially with the Barnett-formula.

Scotland will inevitably have a second independence referendum within the next decade and whatever they decide will either intensify Welsh, but perhaps more so, English notions of separatism or, in the case of a second ‘No’ vote, make such demands obsolete. 

Despite an increased feeling of English indifference, fuelled partially by Brexit-induced frustration, I am a Unionist and I sincerely hope that by the end of the twenties the saltire of St Andrew will continue to fly proudly surmounted by the cross of St George. Unfortunately, I am far less confident about whether the argent and gules saltire of St Patrick will remain on the Union Jack with demographic changes and political trends making it increasingly likely that there will be a United Ireland in my lifetime. 

Jack Logan: 

The English and Scottish Union, a 313-year partnership that is most characteristically likened to that of a Husband and Wife. This analogy has been in use ever since the Union of these two great countries was first tendered by the coming of James I to the throne in 1603. But is it time that we ditch this analogy? The current climate surrounding the Union of England and Scotland would suggest that this would be the case. The SNP’s triumph in the last General Election in Scotland and the latest opinion polls show that a majority of Scotland want to break free. Another success for the SNP in local elections in 2021, could bring a great case for a second independence referendum.  

I feel the devolved administration in Scotland would struggle to get Westminster to agree to such a referendum. However, should this referendum come around, I hope that Scotland repeats their decision in 2014. We are stronger together. Two countries intertwined in each other’s histories. But as we navigate through this troubling time for our Union, perhaps it is time we upgrade our analogies, and build on the basis of what James I started. 

James Stirling

As an advocate for Brexit, in no small part due to the greater independence that I believe it would bring for the UK, I cannot in good conscience argue that people who feel their independence is threatened by remaining in the Union should be forced to stay against their will. Thus, if unhappy members of the union democratically vote to leave, they should be allowed to, although they should make sure they know the ramifications of what they are voting for.

However, I think that the secession of any member state of the Union would be a mistake, and should be campaigned against. Unlike the UK’s status as a net contributor to the EU; Scotland, Northern Ireland, and Wales are all net receivers from England on a per head tax to public spending basis. This disparity between the tax base and public spending would need to be filled by any newly independent nation. Thus, these nation’s inhabitants need to understand that tax rises, public spending decreases and perhaps even a return to the unpopular policy of austerity (as theorised in 2018 by the IFS) would be necessary to make up the spending shortfall if independence were to be achieved. Unlike in the case of Brexit, it is unlikely (at least in the short term) that there will be any newly freed cash to go around, it will instead probably be the opposite. Whilst some of the tax to spending gap can be explained by features such as Scotland’s public sector water supply, even that will need to be funded by the Scottish taxpayer.

Too many people are being sold the lie that things will continue exactly as before after independence, just with an end to English tyranny. If people can evaluate the advantages they are giving up and still democratically choose freedom over better public services then I cannot fault them, although I will miss their departure. As the EU remain campaign was so insistent on saying, people should know what they were voting for.

Edmund Carter:

I would have serious concerns about an independent Scotland’s economic future.  There is no doubt that there are untapped fields in the North Sea but getting the crude out of the ground at such low prices makes no commercial sense. Separately, non-renewables are fast falling from grace. Building a country on crude is not sensible at the moment. Tourism, agriculture and some aspects of business and financial services could be in Scotland’s favour. That said, I suspect that the general public would not be supportive of large tax breaks to encourage wealthy individuals and corporations to settle in a newly independent Scotland. Besides should Scotland pursue EU membership, its fiscal freedom would be reduced anyway. 

I am not convinced Scotland would, by itself, have the fiscal and monetary clout to manage independently. Keeping the pound would mean that monetary independence was not achieved. An independent currency would undoubtedly be extremely volatile, particularly if its value related principally to a volatile commodity. Any kind of peg would be controversial and difficult to maintain. From a fiscal perspective, in 2017/18, Scotland posted a £941m tax shortfall. The UK government provided £737m to cover the difference. I suspect that for Scotland to achieve consistent and adequate tax revenue the per capita tax burden would increase – an immediate blow to the domestic economy. 

The desire for greater independence is understandable. I cannot, however, see how Scotland could achieve a viable form of independent existence in the long run.

Thomas Nurcombe

Scotland voting to leave the union would turn England into a global laughing stock and would seriously diminish its position on a global stage. What country would pay any attention to a government that couldn’t keep its own nation together? I believe that’s why the US and President Obama were so intrigued in the 2014 Independence Referendum, because they genuinely feared for the lessened position that their greatest ally would have on the world’s stage. Although Britain’s GDP without Scotland would still place us in the top 8 economies in the world, we would still be in a lessened diplomatic position due to the lack of Scotland. 

And what would be in store for the future of Scotland? We know that some strength has been given to the indyref2 movement due to Britain leaving the EU. But, Scotland would still be outside the EU if they were to leave the UK. Scotland would genuinely be on its own in the world and would be in serious economic trouble as no country on earth would choose a trade deal with Scotland above a trade deal with England, Wales and NI combined. Not even Donald Trump with his Scottish ancestry would choose an ungodly supply of Irn Bru over the world’s top financial services. 

So, for the purposes of Britain’s position on the world’s stage and for the sake of Scotland’s economy, the government should be prepared to die on the hill to keep the Union together.

The EU’s coronavirus fund is a symbol of vindication for Brexiteers

On the 31st of January, I was in Westminster counting down to the United Kingdom’s long-awaited departure from the undemocratic, declining European Union. The coronavirus pandemic, to a majority of Britons, was a non-issue. Nevertheless, amid the devastating health and economic crisis, both issues play a part in our political discourse.

As a Brexiteer, I always wanted our 27-European friends to join us as economically and politically independent nation-states, engaged in collaborating and cooperating but without any compromise to national sovereignty.

On the morning of the referendum result, I, invoked by the spirit of Boris Johnson’s Wembley speech, wrongfully foresaw a long-list of European nations who would want to join us. This, unfortunately, did not materialise and throughout negotiations, even the most ‘eurosceptic’ of member states appeared pitched against the British.

However, it is this botched continental coronavirus fund, and not the historic vote of 2016, that poses a fundamental threat to the European project. The Guardian reported that Hungarian President, Viktor Orban, accused the Dutch premier, Mark Rutte of ‘communist’ tactics. Nevertheless, it was not just the Orban, a populist authoritarian, and Rutte, a consensus liberal, who were left arguing over the fund.

The so-called ‘frugal five’, the Dutch, Danish, Swedish and Austrians, who were so quiet when the British dissented on the Brussel’s costly and infringing measures, fought tooth and nail against the architects of the European project, Germany and France, to reduce the size of the fund to €700. They, unsurprisingly, failed.

Nonetheless, Rute and his frugal counterparts did ensure a larger rebate in the future and guaranteed that the primary beneficiaries of the fund, Italy and Spain, would pay back their ‘loans’. The division, as seen in previous financial disagreements, between northern and southern Europe has returned to a post-Brexit European Union.

The fund will further infringe upon the political independence of member states. According to The Telegraph, the commission is consequently given the power to raise tax through capital markets and to allocate it however they so wish.

But what if we had never left the European Union. Forget a seismic decline in political faith or the continued burdensome impact of membership of the single market, what would Britain’s fee have been? An estimated £100 billion. Britain already has its own problems with Covid-19, both from a medical and financial standpoint, to ask the taxpayer to foot the bill for European nation’s who have suffered less is not only unfair but resentful. I am just pleased to see that the ‘frugal five’ can see why us Brexiteers, as net contributors, were so adamant we needed to leave the European Union.

The cost, conduct and clear course that the European Union is taking in the post-pandemic world, a course that continues to pool national sovereignty away from nation-states and levies even higher cost to membership on the shoulders of some members, should make the 52 per cent feel totally vindicated for their vote in 2016.

By J Walters

Kanye 2020: A serious candidate?

Kanye West formally announced his 2020 presidential run as an independent candidate on the 4th if July; America’s Independence Day. He initially announced his leadership bid back in 2015 at the VMA’s, in which at the end of his speech #Kanye2020 was born. Now in 2020, he is using guidance and support from Elon Musk, an influential entrepreneur who founded SpaceX amongst other things.

West and Musk both hold a significant influence on the young adult community on many platforms. Within the music industry, Kanye holds four number-one titles in the US and is married to the very popular Kim Kardashian, a fashion icon who is currently pursuing legal training. Musk has a considerable following on Twitter and most subscribed Youtuber, Pewdiepie, has him appear in occasional videos after popular demand from his 105 million fans.

The Sun has argued that the rapper’s presidential bid risks splitting the Democrat vote, something that Kanye has stated he does not mind, but how much of a potential threat to Biden is Kanye, really?

First off, Kanye failed to register in time for some of the vital states such as Florida, the state that won Trump the 2016 election, and the state he will need to win for re-election this November. Kanye is only able to run in a few states such as Oklahoma and South Carolina, meaning his vote share will be inconsiderate for even an independent candidate.

Secondly is the issue of his politics and his constant changing in beliefs. Kanye is running in 2020 on the basis of Evangelical Christianity and has often promoted a pro-life narrative, something which is becoming increasingly unpopular in America. He has shown support for Trump’s narrative of economic nationalism by stating in 2018 that “we have to bring jobs into America because our best export is entertainment and ideas, but when we make everything in China and not in America, then we’re cheating on our country.” Education is something West has seemed to prioritise also, as despite dropping out of college, he has tweeted about teachers pay rise and donated $2million to George Floyd’s daughter or a college education.

Nevertheless, his politics today has vastly changed from the last ten years and is seemingly still changing and contrasting.

Back in 2004 in his song “Never Let Me Down” he states that “racism still alive, we just be concealing it” and spoke about his grandfather’s struggle under segregation laws. The following year, he spoke in an interview about homophobia in rap and how it needed to be stopped. Later on in 2010, in his hit song “Power” he criticises the American system by saying “The system broken, the school is closed, the prison’s open”.

However, in 2016, on his Saint Pablo Tour stop, he tells the crowd he did not vote in the Presidential election, but would have voted for Trump. He then goes on to specifically addressing African-Americans by imploring them to “stop focusing on racism” and accused them of unfairly victimising themselves. Fast forwards to 2018, a now arguably conservative Kanye, publicly in support of Trump states that “when you hear about slavery for 400 years… for 400 years? That sounds like a choice”. This understandably angered the African-American community, and many took to Twitter to show their anger. In the same year, Kanye tweeted that he “loves the way’ Candace Owen “thinks”. This came after she said that Black Lives Matter were victims. Now in 2020, this could have lost Kanye many black voters whom he aims to represent.

West’s political transformation is even more confusing when looking at the series of Tweets in support of Trump in 2016. Despite posting selfies with Kim and Hillary Clinton in support of the Democrats and donating $2,000 to Clinton in 2015. His response to this was to say that because he does not belong to a set political party of beliefs, then he can love both candidates. Nonetheless, he began to shift more to conservatism over time; he stated on Twitter that the ‘mob’ could not change how he thought about Trump and said they both connect well as they have “dragon energy’.

This confusion has worked itself into Wests campaign also. He started this month’s Forbes interview by taking off his red ‘MAGA’ hat. He said that “planned parenthoods have been placed inside cities by white supremacists to do the devil’s work” and that he wants a White House committee based off of the made-up country of Wakanda in Marvels’ Black Panther’.

Lastly, Kanye’s bipolar disorder has shown evidently in his campaigning. He was unfortunately diagnosed with the difficult illness in 2018 and spoke about his troubles with manic episodes on David Letterman’s show. After his recent breakdown about the consideration of the abortion of his daughter, West, at a Charleston rally, people have started to worry about the risk that a campaign may pose to his health. He later came out and said on Twitter that Kim has tried to lock him up with a Doctor and that he wants to divorce her. These are worrying signs of another manic episode in which his health must be paramount to his Presidential campaign.

By E Preston

Art and the Church

I found myself scrolling through YouTube last week and watched a video from Intelligence Squared of a debate from a decade ago where the motion was ‘The Catholic Church is a force of good in the world’. Opposing this notion was Stephen Fry and the late Christopher Hitchens. Both Fry and Hitchens pointed out the need for modernisation of the church of which there have been some great strides taken under Pope Francis, yet there is still work to do. Hitchens was keen to point out the historic shortcomings of the church, an area which could take years to go into detail about, however, there was very little consideration for the historic successes of the church and how it has indeed progressed Western civilisation.

The Church is evidently a contentious area with many feeling very strongly that it is not and has never been a force for good and others feeling the exact opposite. I find myself somewhat stuck in the middle, the Church in my opinion has been extremely oppressive over the past 1,600 years to women and homosexuals and in many ways has taken away the liberty of many of those within the Church. But equally, the Church has given the world some of the most important aspects of western life, such as literature, art, and philosophy. The area that I am keen to emphasise here is its role in allowing art the flourish during the Renaissance period. There is no doubt in my mind that without the Church, we would not have some of the most stunning works of art.

The Renaissance has been described by Thomas E. Woods as the ‘greatest outburst in innovation and sheer accomplishment in the world of art since antiquity’. This is a claim that it is hard to disagree with. For centuries up until the 12th century a period of iconoclasm in which images of god and saints were censored, destroyed thousands of works of art that would be of such beauty that they would still be relished today. This iconoclasm was not the work of the Catholic Church, but by the Eastern Church in the Byzantine Empire. In the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul the attempts to remove images, paintings and statues of Christ can still be seen. Meanwhile, the Catholic Church in the west was continuously looking to break from the Middle Ages, which they managed to do so with artistic innovations prior to the Renaissance period.

The reason for why the Church was so important for Renaissance art is rather compelling. The vast majority of Renaissance artwork was created by men with such profound faith, so much so that it influenced their artwork which can be seen in the depictions of religious themes. One need only look at the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel or da Vinci’s ‘Last Supper’ for proof. The Church and religion were not only the cause of inspiration but the cause for painting. The Church was probably the only establishment which could commission and fund the creation of artwork on such a mass scale. Of course you hear about individual commissions such as the Medici’s commission of Botticelli but we must keep in mind that the Medici bank was probably the richest financial establishment that the world had seen by that point, and still, it could not compete with the Church in funding artwork.

It was under Julius II and Leo X that the most extreme modernisation of the Church to that time occurred. These popes could so easily have rejected artwork that reverted in many ways back to classical sculpture and artwork with an emphasis on nudity, as seen in Michelangelo’s David. The Church began to allow and no longer censor the human form which for so long had been almost banished from life. It was not just allowed, but encouraged by Julius II and Leo X. There had not been such extreme changes to art, literature, or scholarship in Europe since Periclean Athens or Augustan Rome, and the Church was instrumental in this advancement.

I strongly believe that the greatest gift that the Church has given the world is possibly the most stunning works of art that it commissioned, inspired, and most importantly allowed by changing its image. However, I not for one moment will make it seem like the Renaissance period was all bright and sunny and that it was a period where the Church became the most progressive force. Despite the progress in the arts, the period was still one of typical irrationalism. Witch hunts were far more common in the 15th and 16th century than they had been throughout the whole of the Middle Ages despite being viewed as a Medieval phenomenon. Also, according to Woods, the period was one of stagnation for almost all areas other than art. So, to say that this period was one where the Church was entirely a force for good in the world would not be entirely truthful. However, there was undoubtedly some good that came out of the Catholic Church.

The Renaissance is possibly one of the most important period in history and the artwork that was produced by the likes of Donatello, Raphael and their contemporaries owed large thanks to the Catholic Church. The Church has been a large force for good in the artistic world, as for other areas, the debates will continue.

By T Nurcombe

Hypocrisy and U-turns: Labour’s Covid-19 timeline

After the abysmal election result for Labour last December, the party has been given the chance to evolve its standing and acclimatise to the current political climate. A new, more centrist leader and an unprecedented situation; Covid-19, could be what Labour needs to bounce back from their worst loss since 1935.

Starmer has tried to pose himself as a constructive but supportive opposition to Boris Johnson’s government. However, as their duels at Prime Minister’s Questions have shown, the Leader of the Opposition frequently seeks to undermine the government in the war against Covid-19, criticising Tory MPs, advisers and the government’s approach to the virus. 

His words, however, fall flat because of the blatant contradictions made by himself and his parliamentary colleagues. This prompts questions about his transparency of opinion and leadership.

For example:

On the 27th of March, Dominic Cummings made the controversial decision to drive his 4 year old autistic son to Durham for childcare as he and his wife had developed Coronavirus symptoms. Starmer later said in an interview ‘I would have sacked Dominic Cummings if I were Prime minister’. However, Starmer allowed a number of Labour MPs to breach government guidance lockdown for reasons that are arguably less important than childcare.

In March, Shadow Minister for Asia and the Pacific. Stephen Kinnock drove to London from South Wales to visit his father, former Labour leader Neil Kinnock, for his birthday. This broke the rules imposed in March, however, Starmer failed to comment on the issue.

In April, Tahir Ali, the MP for Birmingham Hall Green, attended a funeral with a large number of people present, breaking funeral guidance and yet Starmer failed to comment on the issue. 

Kevan Jones, MP for North Durham, also broke lockdown to attend a widely attended birthday party and yet Starmer failed to comment on the issue. 

Even in the one situation where a Labour lockdown flouter was removed from their position they retained their position in the Commons. Rosie Duffield, who spent a month in the party’s Whip Office, was forced to resign for breaking lockdown to meet her married lover, 

however, she continues to represent the people of Canterbury. Furthermore, she may easily be reinstated into the upper echelons of the Labour Party, as happened to Peter Mandelson who was disgraced on multiple occasions during the Blair years.  

Secondly, during Prime Minister’s questions on the 10th of June, Starmer and Boris clashed over the decision to send children back to school. Starmer criticised Johnson for his lack of planning and child safety, yet he himself had already started sending his children back to school. Schools are either safe, or not. In denying students the opportunity to return to school the gap between the richest and poorest students has grown exponentially. 

Even in City Hall, Labour’s hypocrisy is clear to see. The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, made a contradictory statement in an interview with Joe. He criticised government officials, including the Prime Minister. for not wearing a mask, whilst he himself, was not wearing a mask. He added: ‘I find it astounding that from Donald Trump to Boris Johnson, not wearing a mask is seen as a sign of strength, I think it’s the opposite.’

To make matters worse Khan’s interview followed the Prime Minister’s well-photographed visit to businesses in his constituency of Uxbridge and South Ruislip. Not only is the Johnson’s constituency within Khan’s mayoral jurisdiction but the PM was photographed wearing a Tory-blue face mask before any of the Labour frontbench. 

But Captain Hindsight, who as the Prime Minister claimed, ‘has more briefs than Calvin Klein’, has also flip-flopped on every issue from a wealth tax to Brexit. 

On the wealth tax, maybe Starmer is trying to operate as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. He, and his Shadow Chancellor, Anneliese Dodds, initially supported the introduction of a wealth tax, a tax to raid the pockets of people’s savings and assets.

Labour quickly back tracked in the aftermath of the Chancellor’s summer statement. The press office added that ‘Labour is not calling for tax rises’. But the flip-flop still had one more flip to come.

Dan Carden, Shadow Treasury Minister and the MP with the largest majority in the country, released a statement that claimed that Labour has not pivoted on the wealth tax. Carden added: ‘Labour is clear that the cost of the crisis should be borne by those with the broadest shoulders.’

But Brexit is the final policy area in which the party has invoked the philosophy of Vicky Pollard to formulate a position. Labour went from promising to end freedom of movement, to voting to continue it. Called for a two year extension to the transition period, to no extension, and finally for a shorter extension. No wonder Labour, under the captaincy of Starmer, pushed for a Brexit policy that was rejected so emphatically by the British people last December. 

It’s fair to say that Starmer’s Labour Party has had more flip-flops than the most dedicated Benidorm beach-goer. But how long can Labour’s ‘agree, criticise, U-turn approach’ go on for?

By Emily Preston and Jack Walters

Business Blast: Markets Roundup 17/7/20

Stocks closed higher for the third straight week on Friday as major US banks delivered impressive Q2 results. Trading revenues were of note. The Nasdaq, a big winner this year with a remarkable 17% gain YTD, underperformed this week as already crowded tech stocks spluttered.
Netflix dropped Friday. Q2 results were mixed – a slight earnings miss but a revenue beat. Subscriber growth was, predictably, impressive. In 1H 2020, NFLX added 26M paid subscribers. Throughout 2019, 28M subscribers were added. Q3 guidance was soft. The company predicts that subscriber growth will slow as people venture out again.

European leaders meet this weekend to hammer out stimulus plans. The talks are likely to have been tense, and news thus far has not been positive. Issues surrounding the relative size of loans versus grants are in focus. Monday sees the publication of new information on the Oxford vaccine in The Lancet. Some outlets last week suggested the results would be very encouraging. Traders await.

Mid-East markets are mixed. Saudi Tadawul rises slightly. Saudi British Bank gains following its appointment as a General Clearing Member at the Securities Clearing Centre Company. Kuwait’s Premier Market index is volatile, falling more than 3% on news that H.E. Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad al-Jaber al-Sabah had been in hospital. Stocks pared losses following the announcement of a successful operation.

By E Carter

The strange death of Labour England: The long story of why Labour lost the heartlands

In 2019, the Conservative Party, led by Boris Johnson, romped to their largest victory since 1987. However, this was an incredibly surprising result based on historic electoral patterns. The Tories, for the fourth election in a row, were the United Kingdom’s largest party, but more importantly, the governing party increased their vote share for the fourth consecutive election. No governing party has ever achieved this feat. 

The finger-pointing in the Labour Party culminated with last month’s report into the electoral failure. The General Election Review found that a variety of issues pushed Labour Leavers away from the party.  

The report claimed that Labour’s position was unparalleled because: 

‘The only other time an opposition party has lost so many seats to the incumbent was in 1983 when the Conservatives had been in power for four years. For a major party to fall this far behind after nine years in opposition – and four elections – is historically unprecedented.’

In fact, the report added that in order to win 326 seats and form Labour’s first majority since 2005, Keir Starmer would need to win 123 seats. This was achieved during 1997; however, this is unlikely to repeat itself because Labour would require a far greater swing than Tony Blair did in his first electoral victory. Labour would need to make gains in quintessentially English seats in rural corners of the country. Seats like North East Somerset, held by the Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg, would need to fall if Labour was to return 326 MPs without a resurgence in Scotland.

Nonetheless, the regional swing in England and the swing across specific English social classes in last December’s election make the chances of success in 2024 equally as unlikely. In the north-east, a bastion of socialism since its formation in the late Victorian period, Labour lost eight per cent of its vote share to principally the Tories or the Brexit Party.

Since 2015, Labour has cemented the youth vote. However, a Youthquake has yet to prove decisive in deciding an election. It is needless to say that this is also a problem to the Conservative Party who tend to do far better amongst the older population. But the problem for the Labour Party is epitomised in a quote falsely attributed to Winston Churchill that declared that ‘If you’re not a liberal when you’re 25, you have no heart. If you’re not a conservative by the time you’re 35, you have no brain.’ There is clear historical evidence that the electorate tacts to the right once they age, work, and have a family. Labour also retains sizeable leads amongst the BME community and in the nation’s largest metropolitan cities.

What explains Labour’s defeat last December? The ongoing debate within Labour ranks tends to divide parliamentary members into two camps. 

The first, usually represented by the outgoing Corbyn faction, perceive Brexit as the primary reason behind the fall in support for the Labour Party. The Labour Party lost 54 seats to the Conservative Party last December. Fifty-two of these seats voted to Leave the European Union. Labour lost almost twice as many Leave voters as it did Remainers. Moreover, of the 1,000,000 new voters, they won in 2019, almost all of them supported the continued membership of the EU. Former party Chairman, Ian Lavery, is a clear proponent of such a prescription. On election night, Lavery told the BBC that “What we are seeing in the Labour heartlands is people very aggrieved at the fact the party basically has taken a stance on Brexit the way they have.” Lavery’s vote share collapsed in his Leave-voting seat in Wansbeck. In 2017, the former President of the National Union of Mineworkers had a majority of over 10,000; however, just two years later, this was reduced to 814. Lavery’s predecessor at the NUM, Arthur Scargill, agreed wholeheartedly with this sentiment. A Leaver himself, Scargill, now Leader of the Socialist Labour Party, called for Corbyn to unequivocally back Brexit and advised his supporters to not vote for any Remain candidates, socialist or not.

The second camp of politicians and journalists tend to represent the Blairite ascendancy that had engulfed the Labour Party in the aftermath of the Thatcher years. The group, whose cheerleader-in-chief was Blair’s former head of communications, Alistair Campbell, argue that the radicalism of Corbynism made the defeat last December all but inevitable. Alan Johnson, Home Secretary under Gordon Brown passionately argued for this case during ITV’s election coverage. The former postman claimed that ‘worse than useless’ Corbyn was the main factor behind Labour’s worst election defeat since 1931. Ian Murray, the now lone Labour MP in Scotland, added that: ‘Every door I knocked on, and my team and I spoke to 11,000 people, mentioned Corbyn. Not Brexit but Corbyn. I’ve been saying this for years. The outcome is that we’ve let the country down and we must change course and fast.’ Whilst politics north of Berwick does differ to England and Wales, many of Murray’s colleagues south of the border echoed these concerns. Most of those claiming such a thing supported the former Shadow Brexit Secretary, Keir Starmer’s, successful leadership bid last Spring and were unwavering in their opposition to Brexit.

There is some merit to this. According to YouGov, thirty-five per cent of Labour defectors cited Corbyn’s leadership as the prime reason that drove them to vote for an alternative party. This may be because of the anti-Semitism that ran rife under his leadership or his connections with groups regarded as completely anti-British that would not be well received by patriotic voters in the heartlands. However, separate YouGov polls have added that an overwhelming majority of voters well supported Labour’s economic policies. In fact, over half of British voters supported the following proposals:

  • Increasing income tax on earnings over £123,000 from 45 to 50 per cent.
  • Increasing the rate of income tax on earnings over £80,000 from 40 to 45 per cent. 
  • Nationalising the railways.
  • Requiring all companies to give a third of the places on their company board to its workers.
  • A wealth tax.
  • Nationalising water companies. 

A Labour source told The Guardian’s election team that ‘It wasn’t that people didn’t like the policies, people thought there was too many of them. The free broadband was really unpopular. We hadn’t spent two years making the case for it and we just dumped it on them … so people thought “this is a weird luxury, why on earth are we being offered this?”‘

Nonetheless, there is a third answer to this divisive and fundamental question. This theory, championed by Matthew Goodwin, argues that the collapse of support for the Labour Party in the former industrial heartlands began in the early 2000s. During this time, a Tony Blair-led Labour Party moved to the centre of British politics, notably on the economy. However, this created a divide between the parliamentary party and the people that the party was established to represent. Subsequently, any sign of class-based voting that had not been eroded during the Thatcher years disintegrated last December. There is also a clear geographical difference. Labour has not won the popular vote in England since 2001, and Blair’s success in 2001 and 2005 came from the overwhelming support in both Wales and Scotland. However, with just one Westminster seat north of Berwick and a fall in support on the other side of the River Severn, Labour would need to claw back support in England for even the possibility of becoming the UK’s largest party.

It is precisely this long-term pattern that Labour must address and accept. They had been warned. As early as 2014, Matthew Goodwin and others told Ed Miliband’s team that the vehicles for change that came in the form of Farage-led parties were as much of a threat to Labour as they were to the Tories. Miliband ignored this, and in 2019 his majority in Doncaster North collapsed from over 14,000 to little over 2,000. 

In the shortest sense, between Corbyn’s relatively successful campaign in 2017 and Boris Johnson’s victory in 2019, Labour’s position in the heartlands was left vulnerable. May’s calamitous campaign partly paved the way for Johnson’s success. The University of Manchester’s Rob Ford analysed the eighteen Anglo-Welsh seats that Labour lost for the first time since 1945. In these seats, Theresa May had increased the Tory vote share by an average of 14 per cent. This enabled the Conservatives to make modest gains in vote share for them to take control.

However, it is essential to look even further back than this to a time when Labour was the most successful party in the United Kingdom and arguably in western Europe. The Blair years may be regarded as the wilderness years for the Conservative Party; however, without them, the road to redrawing the political landscape is more like a car park. 

On the surface, Tony Blair brought the Labour Party over a decade of political power, and for much of that period, unchallengeable levels of power. Underneath the tip of this electoral iceberg, many problems were emerging. This was evident in the collapse in turnout during these years. Labour’s pivot to power was forged by pandering to the centre-ground in seats like Rugby and Redditch. However, in doing so, Labour inadvertently neglected their traditional voters in Redcar and Rother Valley. Consequently, political participation plummeted. Turnout fell by 6.4 per cent in 1997, and by 2001 it fell by a further 11.9 per cent.

This collapse in confidence was even more profound in the red wall. This collapse crossed county boundaries. In Bassetlaw, Blyth Valley, Burrow and Furness, and Birmingham Northfield voter turnout fell by between ⅕ and ¼ of eligible voters. Even the minuscule increase in turnout during the 2005 general election was unable to overturn the downturn in political participation. It was also perceived that Tony Blair failed to address voters’ concerns over geographical inequalities and the only way voters could punish this was through mass abstentions. 

That said, some voters did begin to move towards the Conservative Party. An upturn in Tory votes almost mirrored the downturn in Labour votes. This was highlighted by Professor Rob Ford, who considered 2010 as the turning point. This is also why Labour have not won a majority of the popular vote in England since 2001. In a dozen seats, including Bolsover, Sedgefield and Walsall North, there was a swing of almost 25 per cent from Labour to the Tories between 2005 and 2019. Nevertheless, this was not significant enough to displace the party from their post-industrial heartlands.

Enter Nigel Farage.

Farage’s burst onto the political scene in 1999 when he was elected as UKIP’s first representative in Brussels. At that point, UKIP represented the views of dissenting Thatcherites in the English shires, an electorate that Nigel Farage continued to foster in EU Elections and the 2016 referendum. Nonetheless, as Matthew Goodwin warned Ed Miliband in 2014, UKIP was to threaten Labour with the disenfranchised voters flocking to the party. The following year, UKIP retained the bellwether constituency of Clacton but failed to win in the Kent seats of Rochester and Strood or Thanet South. Nonetheless, according to LSE, UKIP finished second in 44 Labour-held seats. By entering these seats, Farage presented himself as a representable opposition to Labour’s domination. In the 2016 referendum, 37 per cent of Miliband-backing voters opted to Leave the EU, but it is interesting to consider how many former Labour voters were already siding with UKIP. In the seat of Hartlepool, voter turnout fell to lows of 51.5 per cent in 2005. By comparison, the north-eastern town registered a turnout of 56.8 per cent in the 2015 general election, with UKIP eating away at Labour’s majority. By June 23rd 2016, 65.5 per cent of those in Hartlepool went to the polls. The lost voice mobilised for one cause.

UKIP was a catalyst for voters to rethink their position and for the first time, vote for an alternative to Labour. By breaking the seal on Labour tribalism, UKIP facilitated change. So did the Brexit Party. In the 2019 European Parliamentary Elections, the Brexit Party stormed to victory in every English region, excluding London. Even in the north-east and Wales, parliamentary regions that still backed Labour in 2014, Nigel Farage’s party took swathes of voters and took a majority of seats in Brussels. This rewarded Boris Johnson later in December, and the Rowntree Foundation has made clear that with the support of 47 per cent of working-class voters, the Tory now has more support amongst poorer Britons than the nation’s most affluent voters. 

The change embodies the stark change that Britain’s most-read paper, The Sun, has undergone. Back in 1992, the phenomenon of ‘It’s The Sun Wot Won It’ was born. Since then it is fair to say that The Sun’s Anglo-Welsh editorial team has sided with the party or cause that succeeded, including Brexit. In the aftermath of Tony Blair’s first election success, over half of The Sun’s readers backed Labour. This collapsed in 2005, and the Tories made significant gains. However, by 2019 a poll by The Sun suggested that just 7 per cent of its readers intended to vote for the Labour Party. Even when using YouGov’s 2017 figures, it appears that the Labour Party generates more support from readers of The Financial Times than it does in a paper that barring Thatcher was historically supportive or inclined to support the party.

To conclude, Labour’s monumental defeat last December was unprecedented for two reasons. The first was that the Tories have been in office in one form or another since 2010 and it is usually at this point that the electorate pursues a change in course. However, more importantly, the result was unprecedented because people who once vowed never to vote Conservative did. They did, not just in their handfuls, but in their droves. 

To try and diagnose this defeat as either the fault of Brexit or for that matter, the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn would put paper over the cracks of a problem that threatened the mainstream political establishment for decades. This is not to say that these issues are not of importance. Of course, they were. But it would be fair to claim that both Britain’s membership of the European Union and Labour’s pivot to the left were consequences, not causes, of a deep divide in British politics. 

In fact, both the Brexit position and the uglier parts of Corbynism embody the disconnect felt between traditional Labour voters and the party that once served their interests. The Blairites, who rightfully desired power, positioned themselves to represent voices of voters in Bristol above their traditional voters in seats like Bolsover. Whereas, Corbyn’s unpatriotic connections and the left-ward leanings his party took on social issues were utterly contemptible to voters in seats like Clwyd South. 

Therefore, the inklings of discontent that were visible during Labour’s rebrand at the beginning of the 21st century were greatly exacerbated by the two problems that the party faced last December. It goes without saying that the nation has changed drastically since 2010, let alone since Blair’s first success in 1997. The Thatcherite economic consensus of yesteryear is eroding, and the average voter is now cross-pressured. They tend to lean left-of-centre on economic values, also known as economic patriotism. This includes increases in some forms of taxation and state intervention. However, the patriotism of Britain’s left is left wanting on social issues. Law and order, immigration, defence, and of course post-Brexit identity are all issues that the Labour Party will have to reconcile if it wants to forge a path to power. The Tories found this far easier to do in 2019. The Cummings machine foresaw that voters in Bishop Auckland had more in common with the electorate in safe Tory seats like Brentwood or Broxbourne on key social issues than they did with Labour Remainers in seats like Bethnal Green and Bow. Subsequently, the loosely connected coalition of left-leaning voters has never appeared more fragmented than on the 12th of December 2019 and reuniting the coalition appears a difficult task within the next four years.

By J Walters

Populist Duda edges past Poland’s progressive candidate in the nation’s narrowest Presidential election race

Yesterday, the people of Poland went to the polls to decide whether the incumbent, Andrzej Duda, would be returned to Warsaw’s Presidential Palace for another five years.

Duda fought off Rafal Trzaskowksi in what was one of the most tightly contested electoral races since the fall of communism in 1989. He is just the second President to be successfully re-elected by the Polish electorate.

The pair contested the first round, in which the President obtained the support of 43.5 percent of his compatriots. Trzaskowski trailed in second with the support of 30.5 percent of voters.

In 2015, Duda won 51.5 percent of the vote, compared to Bronislaw Komorowksi’s 48.5 percent vote share. This was the first victory for the populist party since Kaczynski defeated the former President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, in 2005.

However, in the days preceding the second ballot, it was unclear whether Duda, supported by the Law and Justice Party, would have enough support to fend off Trzaskowski, who is backed by the Civic Platform.

The dozen opinion polls conducted in the week before the second ballot emphasised the division in Poland. Half of the polls predicted Duda’s re-election, while the other half foresaw a change in direction for the nation. 

Last night’s exit poll was equally tight. It projected that Duda would win the backing of 50.4 percent of the electorate, whereas the current Mayor of Warsaw would win 49.6 percent.

However, with almost all of the votes counted, Duda has won re-election with the support of 500,000 more Poles than the Civic Platform’s candidate. Subsequently, Duda finished the election with the backing of 51.2 percent of the electorate. 

The exit poll may have underestimated Duda’s lead because of a perceived embarrassment among Poles to reveal whom they supported. The deputy Prime Minister, Jadwiga Emilewicz, claimed that: “People are ashamed of voting for the right, which means the exit polls underestimate support”.

The election also witnessed a massive increase in voter turnout. In both the first and second round, roughly two-thirds of Poles cast their votes. This is markedly higher than the election in 2015, in which approximately half of the nation’s eligible voters exercised their democratic right.

The mobilisation of the Polish voter may come from the divisiveness of this year’s election. Not only has Duda pursued a crash course with the Brussels-based bureaucrats, but the returning President has been criticised for his illiberal stance towards his nation’s LGBT+ population. 

In fact, Duda described the LGBT+ community as being a part of an ideology “more destructive than communist indoctrination”. Consequently, Poland has been dubbed ‘the worst country in the EU for LGBT rights’ by the BBC. 

The results and visions for Poland also symbolised a geographic and age divide between different groups within Poland. According to The Financial Times, Duda and the populist right tend to get the support of rural and older Poles. These voters predominantly support the Law and Justice Party’s mix of populist pledges, including state aid and social conservatism. 

Aleks Szczerbiak, of the University of Sussex, told The Independent that Duda won because “he was able to get his voters out. His campaign was primarily about mobilising voters in small-town provincial areas of Poland”. 

Despite concerns over the Polish President’s position towards his LGBT+ compatriots and the controversies regarding Poland’s judiciary, the architect of the UK’s departure from the EU and leader of the Brexit Party, Nigel Farage, celebrated the result because it was “good to see a eurosceptic win in Poland.”

However, Poland’s President and his constituents have not made it clear that they would be in favour of a Polish departure from the EU. Therefore, while Duda does pose a threat as a belligerent participant within the EU, the likelihood of ‘Withdrarsaw’ remains slim.

By J Walters

‘The grand Napoleon of the realms of rhyme’, Lord Byron’s adoration of Napoleon.

Britain’s great enemy, Napoleon Bonaparte, was feared by so many but admired by so many others. Lord Byron’s admiration for Napoleon was more like an extreme attachment to a man who had a mythical zeal about him. Byron’s Prometheus written in 1816, the year following Napoleon’s defeat at Waterloo and his exile to St Helena, clearly emphasises Byron’s disappointment that Napoleon had failed. More importantly, however, the poem raises Napoleon to semi-divine status, just as how Augustus had raised Julius Caesar to the same status. Byron writes:

Thy Godlike crime was to be kind,
To render with thy precepts less
The sum of human wretchedness,
And strengthen Man with his own mind;
But baffled as thou wert from high,
Still in thy patient energy,
In the endurance, and repulse
Of thine impenetrable Spirit,
Which Earth and Heaven could not convulse,
A mighty lesson we inherit,
Thou art a symbol and a sign,
To Mortals of their fate and force;
Like thee, Man is in part divine,
A troubled stream from a pure source

Byron’s obsession with Napoleon is evident in this passage. By comparing Napoleon to Prometheus, Byron clearly perceived Napoleon to be a force of good who was wrongly punished. As Prometheus gave humanity fire by going against the gods, Napoleon in Byron’s eyes was helping in Europe’s liberal progression. Prometheus is probably the best mythological comparison for Napoleon from Byron’s perspective. Napoleon was like the fire for Byron’s writing and intrigue.

His From the French written from the perspective of a French officer is perhaps the most convincing piece of writing in emphasising the extent to which Byron was obsessed with the ethos of Napoleon. In writing:

Must thou go, my glorious Chief,
Severed from thy faithful few?
Who can tell thy warrior’s grief
Maddening o’er that long adieu?
Woman’s love, and friendship’s zeal,
Dear as both have been to me–
What are they to all I feel,
With a soldier’s faith for thee?

And finishing with:

My chief, my king, my friend, adieu
Never did I droop before,
Never to my sovereign sue,
As his foes I now implore,
All I ask is to divide,
Every peril he must be brave;
Sharing by the hero’s side
His fall, his exile, his grave.

His pain with the exile of Napoleon is evident. It is almost as if the pain that Byron suffered in knowing of Napoleon’s exile was worse than death. Byron’s devotion to a man he had not met is astounding, but it is understandable when one thinks to the liberté, égalité, fraternité ideology that shaped the period and progressed Europe. Byron and others who had the view that Napoleon was a liberating man in Europe acknowledged the genius that was a cause of Napoleon’s success for much of his time as emperor.

In many ways, the values that Napoleon stood for, spanning from enlightenment thought are identical to those in Byron’s romantic style of writing and political ideologies. Andrew Roberts writes ‘The ideas that underpin our modern world—meritocracy, equality before the law, property rights, religious toleration, modern secular education, sound finances, and so on—were championed, consolidated, codified and geographically extended by Napoleon.’ Byron’s support in the House of Lords for secular education and religious toleration for the long-persecuted Catholic population of Britain has been noted by many historians. It could be said that Napoleon’s reforms influenced these views.

Romantic writing is unmistakeably a result from enlightened thought, of which Napoleon, in his educational reforms, pushed and almost indoctrinated French children. Is this why Byron was obsessed with Napoleon? Because he was the leading force in pushing through the ideologies that Byron believed in.

Byron was often the enemy of conservative factions in the Lords as he pushed for progression on the basis on liberty. I would argue that Byron’s obsession with Napoleon is a result of this, rather than Napoleon’s success. Byron adored Napoleon as they shared the same values, whether it be the promotion of liberalism or even hatred for Russia and sympathy for the Polish people.

Byron’s condition supposedly deteriorated in his final few years with him putting on weight and his hair growing long and grey. Maybe this is due to his sadness of Napoleon’s exile. Will we ever know? Probably not but given his obsession with one of Europe’s most influential figures, I would say that it could be argued.

By T Nurcombe