The British Left Just Came Roaring Back to Life

The people that really lost out to the legacy of Margaret Thatcher were left-wing voters. Resuscitated back to life by Tony Blair in its horrific neoliberal guise, and starved of direction and courage under the leadership of Brown and Miliband, Labour may have recovered electorally since the days of Thatcher, but it is no longer a comfortable home for left-wing voters. It has allowed itself to become a slightly muted version of the Tories, rather than a strong, progressive voice of change. By pandering to populist rhetoric it has not only done irreparable damage to itself, but to British politics as a whole.

There’s no point in voting if there are no alternatives, and sadly Labour ceased to be that some time ago. Tuition fees and privatising the NHS? Labour introduced them. Benefits caps and spending cuts? Labour will match them. Environmental concerns? No, Labour doesn’t have a clue either…

The fall-out from Labours lurch to the Right has been a dishevelled and disorientated Left, comprised mainly of small, bickering, and constantly fragmenting parties that have ‘socialist’ or ‘workers’ in the title somewhere (or both). The Left quite frankly has been left crippled- but not any longer.

The Green Party conference this year has a peculiar feel to it for a party of such a relatively humble position in British politics. It is an air of hope. The Greens have arrived in the run up to next May with an impressive range and depth of policy, carefully costed, democratically decided, and audaciously alternative. Natalie Bennett was very clear in her conference-opening speech- the Greens are positioning themselves firmly as THE party of the left, directly challenging Labour. Stating that ‘inequality is economically unsustainable’ their leader has made it clear that the Greens scope has flourished far beyond just environmental concerns.

Shahrar Ali’s (the Greens new Deputy Leader with enough charisma to make Boris and Farage look about as popular as a Union Jack in Holyrood) speech on prejudice and the direction of the party was met with astounding applause. His “you don’t need to be black to fight prejudice, just Green” approach clearly places the Green Party at the heart of the fight for liberating minority groups and making politics and society work for everyone, not just a privileged few.

Amelia Womack, the second newly elected Deputy Leader, is perhaps the first politician in decades that seems to have a hope at combatting the yawning chasm that has opened up between young people and politics. Being a Young Green herself, she is a shining example that the Greens are committed to empowering younger generations, rather than hold them at arms-length. The Green Party understand that (in Amelia’s words) ‘young people are central to any vision of the future’. By seeking to remove the burden of tuition fees, ensuring there is fair pay on campus’, and encouraging young people to get unionised, the Greens are clearly fighting for a demographic that has been consistently ignored and betrayed by politics.

They refuse to allow the mistakes of the past perpetrated by the financial and political elite be paid for by the poor- instead they are providing a bold vision of restructuring society so that it works for the 99% instead of the 1%. Policies such as a wealth tax, a £10 an hour minimum wage (for ALL ages) and supporting the ‘Robin Hood’ financial tax send out a clear message- enough is enough. For too long has inequality and protected privilege been allowed to run rampant in our society, like a bull in a china shop. The time for change is here and British politics finally has a party with the courage to fight for it.

This is a party that is refusing to succumb to the all-pervasive dogma that is neo-liberalism- a dogma that has disenfranchised generations, stripped bare the once varied ideologies of British politics, and eroded notions of compassion and inclusivity. It is precisely by providing an antidote to the sickness that has infected British politics since Thatcher that the Greens are experiencing a huge and sustained swell of support.

There is an acute and profound awareness in the Green Party, evidenced in its manifesto, that political issues should not, cannot be treated in isolation. Providing alternatives to neoliberalism can impact political engagement. A focus on redistribution of wealth, rather than an obsession with infinite growth, can not only limit our impact on the environment but create a fairer society at the same time. Free access to education and treating workers fairly can actually help, rather than hinder, the vitality of the economy.

Youth membership has doubled since the European elections. National membership is up 28% since the start of the year, at a time when Labour and the Tories memberships are declining. Polling close to a junior member of government…

For too long there has been a void in British politics, but it is now filled. The British Left has just come roaring back, and politics is about to get interesting.

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bradley-allsop/left-wing-britain_b_5788898.html
Many of the facts and figures are outdated- GP membership is now up by over 100% and we’re regularly beating the Lib Dems in polls

The British Left Just Came Roaring Back to Life

How our education system is failing us… and our democracy

During my secondary school years, I didn’t really apply myself. Whilst a good portion of the blame must lie with my own laziness, part of the issue also lay in the culture of schooling in this country. We have lost touch with what our educational system is meant to achieve, whilst still exhaustively trying to check whether it’s achieving it or not.

Schools have become laboratories, where we constantly assess and test the abilities of pupils, without any real notion of what our end goal is. Whilst it is important to have some sense of how well pupils are doing and if institutions are performing to standard, we have allowed this minor consideration to become inflated beyond all sense of proportion, choking out any real sense of curiosity or passion in our educational system. And what’s worse is that it’s having an adverse effect on our democracy too.

Psychologist Daniel Kahneman, in his ground-breaking book ‘Thinking, Fast and Slow’, describes our intuition-driven, stereotyping, unconscious ‘System 1 mode’ of thinking, and our more deliberate, logical, slow-paced ‘System 2’. He takes readers on a whistle-stop tour of the flaws and faults (which he terms ‘heuristics’ and ‘biases’) in how we think (when ‘System 1’ makes the wrong leaps) and Westminster must have been reading it, because they’re ruthlessly exploiting them all.

Our ability to form quick judgments is incredibly vital, but it can at times lead to dangerously bad decisions. Whilst it is certainly not true of all public officials, it is those that are most successful in our political system that seem to be best at exploiting our ‘System 1’, to our detriment.

Take Farage. He sells a simple and compelling narrative to the electorate: the EU and their open border policies are destroying Britain—if we pull out, all will be fine once more. This taps into our desire to have a simple story to explain a set of facts, and to their credit, UKIP have come up with a simpler story than any other party. It also relies on vague stereotypes of immigrants (“you know what I mean”) and appels to our in-group/out-group mentality, where we find it easier to blame the out-group for our problems than to look internally for solutions.

As Kahneman points out, it is far easier to come up with such a story when you focus on a relatively small amount of facts (how much we pay in EU contributions, how many immigrants enter the UK each year) but to maintain it you must ignore others (the amount of Brits living abroad, the benefits of EU membership), otherwise the story will struggle to account for these new facts and the illusion of a simple narrative will waver (as you will in the polls).

Another example lies in Conservative rhetoric concerning the deficit. We’ve been told that harsh austerity measures are worth it because the deficit has been lowered and the economy has begun to grow again (completely forgetting a pledge to eradicate the former by this time and a prediction of more of the latter than we’ve seen). When we were in the midst of the recession, both the deficit and economic growth were in exceptionally bad states- they were, to use statistical speak, exceptional outliers.

What the concept of ‘regression to the mean’ tells us is that whenever you encounter exceptional values, be it for goals scored in a season, size of your pet elephant, or indeed economic growth, it is statistically probable that next time round the new value will be far closer to the average than last time. Therefore, if we have a recession where economic growth is exceptionally negative, it is far more likely to be closer to average economic growth next time (i.e very likely to improve). Put simply, things were bound to get better, austerity or no.

Now if economic growth had been particularly high it would be a different story, but given the infamously slow rise out of the recessional ooze that we experienced mid-parliament, it seems unlikely that any factor other than regression to the mean was affecting our economic prospects. Osborne’s much lauded austerity doesn’t quite have the backing he likes to claim it does- the Conservatives have played on our desire for a causal explanation of what has happened, an explanation we find infinitely more satisfying than the seemingly random regression to the mean. They’ve also abused our apparent inability to grasp the fundamentals of statistics, with David Cameron plain lying to us about national debt.

Whilst some of the above (and they are but three of a myriad of ways in which politicians are exploiting our ‘System 1’s’) may seem like quite distant statistical and political arguments, they shouldn’t. These are exactly the things we should be teaching in schools—how to understand basic representations of data, how to critically evaluate them and the arguments they are meant to serve, and how to spot common flaws in our own reasoning. A recent study found that the majority of students are graduating without the cognitive skills required to think critically, suggesting that our educational system is singularly failing to flex our ‘System 2’s’, and the result is a disempowered electorate, and a political system massively open to abuse.

The latest batch of changes coming in this term to the National Curriculum prioritise ‘hard scientific facts’ (whatever they are) and spelling: it seems our educational system is heading in the wrong direction entirely, whilst the electorate continues to be manipulated and lied to.

Rather than overworking and constantly apprising staff, or allowing the toxic notion of ‘competition’ to enter education, it is only by re-evaluating the core purpose of our educational system (a purpose that should be to give us tools that expand our ways of thinking and to spot our cognitive flaws) that we will be able to acquire a purposeful and enriching educational system.

NOTE: This article originally appeared in Bright Green: http://bright-green.org/youth/how-our-education-system-is-failing-us-and-our-democracy/

How our education system is failing us… and our democracy

Students are not disengaged- politics is

NOTE: This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/bradley-allsop/student-politics_b_5567917.html

18-24 year olds have consistently the lowest voting turn-outs, and thus are the forgotten demographic when it comes to government policy. But are students really that disinterested – or does the blame lie elsewhere?

Why don’t we stop asking why students are disengaged with politics, and start asking why politics is disengaged with students?

Hard to get into?

‘Politics’ is seen as a specialist area of interest, like archaeology or Chinese architecture. It is quite often construed as the Chancellor droning on about deficits and GDP, and this simply doesn’t connect with most of the public, let alone students. Politics, as cliché as it sounds, really is everything. It encompasses so much more than what politicians usually represent. It is this ‘more’ that students do care about, they just find no representation for their concerns in Westminster.

Not only is it boring, but it’s not all that accessible either. Compared to the level of influence many students can enjoy in their universities and Student Unions, the governance of the land can often seem aloof and distant. This is why the sort of policies that encourage more accountability for MPs, and give more power back to local authorities are sorely needed, so young people feel like they have more say in the direction of their communities and the actions of their officials.

Students also tend to be interested in alternative forms of participation, ones that the government seems to be pretty good at either ignoring or actively suppressing. One need only think of the ‘Anti-Social’ and ‘Gagging’ Bills, curtailing the voices of charities/NGOs and endangering political protest, or the recent People’s Assembly march against austerity that was completely ignored. There is more than one way to do politics, and Westminster needs to start taking notice of that.

Spot the difference

Variety is supposed to be the spice of life, and if so no wonder British politics has become so bland. In the aftermath of World War 2 we saw the rise of the welfare state, one of the most divisive issues in political history. This was a time of a great ideological battle, where parties really stood for something, and party memberships subsequently soared (the only time in the last century they have).

This is why we have a coalition – neither Labour nor the Conservatives could convince enough people at the last election. The journey of New Labour is one of traversing the murky waters of the centre, to set their feet firmly on the right-wing side of the spectrum, seemingly now agreeing with the Tories on more than they disagree. And who really knows what the Lib Dems stand for?

This is why more radical, fringe groups such as the Greens and UKIP are the only parties with memberships increasing. Young people are tired of the business as usual, dry way of doing politics, the same way that has led to multiple recessions, deepening inequality, and environmental degradation. We’re not interested in short-term gains – we have a whole lifetime ahead of us and we want decisions that deal with the long term. We want something new, and we want alternatives in our political parties that go deeper than the colour of the rosette they wear.

Not all politicians will want change

Once all of this is considered, one could be forgiven for being more than a little suspicious that the powers that be in Westminster don’t actually want students and young people to be more engaged. If we’re tired of business as usual, if we want more of a say over our futures, and if we’re prepared to explore radical alternatives – then allowing us to become more engaged wouldn’t exactly be in the interests of the main parties, would it?

But like it or not, with the polarising effect that is UKIP still dominating headlines, more and more students are being drawn into the debate – I am confident we will see a higher student turn out in 2015 than we have for a long time.

The challenge to Labour is to be bold and stick to its roots, rather than trying to out-Tory the Tories, or out-UKIP UKIP.

The challenge to Westminster is to recognise the anger and frustration many young people feel towards politics and act on it – make MPs more accountable, invest more power in local communities, and make our democracy more democratic.

And the challenge to all of us is to see the problem not as young people, but as politics. It is the politicians that are currently disengaged from students, rather than the other way around. But soon our voices shall be raised and they will have no choice but to listen.

The challenge to students is to join in with the chorus for change.

Students are not disengaged- politics is

Miliband- The Greens Will be Your Downfall

Public opinion overwhelmingly supports a more left-wing agenda. The British people are literally crying out for a more democratic and equal society, and not one brought about by mild concessions from a political elite, but by investing real power and ownership back into local communities, by breaking the mould of British politics, and by bold and passionate leaders. Numerous polls have proven, time and time again, that overwhelmingly the public want to protect the NHS, have a more progressive tax system, and nationalise key industries such as the railways and energy firms. 

With appalling decisions such as supporting the Tory benefits cap, pandering to UKIP’s immigration agenda, and most recently their plans to abolish JSA for 18-21 year olds, Labour are failing the public badly. There is an ideological vacuum at the centre of Westminster that Labour have fallen down and seem set never to return from. They no longer offer an alternative to the crippling austerity and neo-liberal dogma that British politics has become.

Fortunately, there is an alternative for all those that care about social justice and equality, and for those that want things to change- the Green Party. A party that has representatives that are passionate and dedicated (they’re willing to get arrested for what they believe is right), that places democracy at the heart of its policy decisions, and has grown by 23% since the start of the year– the Green Party is fast becoming what Labour has lost.

What Britain needs is a party that when debating Europe, instead of pandering to xenophobia and fear, challenges the unprecedented power grab represented in the TTIP. When it comes to the environment, we need a party that instead of a windfarm here and there, would seriously invest in research, subsidise clean energy and fight fracking. And what we desperately, desperately need is a party that when addressing equality, instead of tinkering with the tax system it would instead radically restructure society to work in the interests of the many, not the few.

This is the party of progress and hope that Labour should have been- but they’ve failed. A time is coming when words like “democracy” and “equality” and “freedom” won’t be vote-grabbing slogans- they’ll be the reality around us. A time is coming when it won’t be Labour red that Tory blue has to fight against, but the people’s green.

With issues such as climate change and inequality reaching tipping points, the time for mild policies and business as usual is over. There was a time when there was hope that the Labour Party could be the force for good that this country so desperately needs, but no longer. They have proven time and again that they have neither the courage nor the inclination to fight for the people. The Greens have taken up this mantle, and the Greens will be the downfall of a party that has tragically lost its way. For voters, the choice is simple- do you want business as usual, be it painted red or blue? Or do you finally want the change that this world is crying out for?

Miliband- The Greens Will be Your Downfall