Is Democracy A Paradox, Or Just Too “PC” Now?

Spending the hours I have between lectures watching The Daily Politics is a regular feature in my day to day life. Call me sad, call me boring, but nothing beats a little debate whilst kickin’ back with a roast beef sandwich and some Sunbites, sitting on faux leather sofas surrounded by my lazy housemates’ takeaway cartons. Whilst participating in said relaxation, a debate which really concerned me was brought up on the telly: EU funding of parties.

The funding of political parties by the EU in itself is a question I feel should be addressed briefly. Is it morally correct for parties to get money out of the tax payers’ pocket, paying for MEPs’ many formalities and privileges such as chauffeured cars? According to a Left-wing MEP, it is only 5p, per person, per year, which adds up to around £5b set aside for the EU. however, Liberal MEP Sarah Ludford, pointed out that the EU is undemocratic enough for us ‘normals’ when it comes to voting in representatives; why should that tax be taken? Anyway, I digress.

The point I was getting towards, was that it has now been suggested that the BNP and far-right parties lose their funding from the EU, dependent on Liberals, Socialist and Green MEPs voting results on the matter. Some French Fascist parties have in the past received around 300,000 Euros of EU cash. It has been pointed out that despite these parties only being small scale in their levels of representation, history cannot be ignored. Hitler, one of the world’s greatest opportunists, jumped onto the despair Germany was experiencing in order to gain momentum and power. Many countries in the EU are currently suffering forms of despair, which places them at risk of extremist parties.

In spite of all these concern, some people are raising the valid point that since the EU is supposedly a democratic institution, to deprive these far-Right parties of their funding is likened to taking away their voices. They have the rights to voice their opinions, and to stop them doing so is undemocratic. 

Interesting.

Whilst I completely understand where these people are coming from, voicing the ever-present voice of the ‘goodie’ MEP, it cannot be ignored that actually, there are two issues with this argument.

  1. The BNP and other Right-wing extreme parties would never, ever aid any other parties in this way unless it was for some form of gain for themselves. They use opportunities such as these in order to make themselves look more ‘human’, and try to gather more support and sympathy.
  2. The most important area I want to cover: to fund these parties is to fund a break down in democracy.

I think it is time the EU stopped seeing everything as black/white/right/wrong. There can be no yes or no answer to this dilemma. Democracy itself is not paradoxical; MEPs are just too  concerned with providing the appearance of democracy. The solution is to set up a committee of some form, who decide which parties get the funding according to their aims and manifestos. Should the party be deemed to be aiming to deliver a democratic society, despite their political aims, then they should be funded. (Well, there shouldn’t be any funding but that’s for another time…). Likewise, if the party does not aim to deliver democracy, e.g. the BNP, then they should not be funded on the grounds that they are not working towards maintaining and bettering democracy within the European Union.

And before it is mentioned, it is wrong to suggest that these parties are being penalised for not agreeing with the views of the majority in the EU… UKIP are active and funded within the EU, are they not? They are actively working towards dissolving the institute altogether, so don’t use that excuse with me, you black-shirted right-wingers!!

Burglar Bashing: If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em…

On the 9th of October, the Minister of Justice, Chris Grayling, announced the proposal to change law which stops homeowners being able to attack burglars, or those breaking and entering into their home. In 1999, the farmer, Tony Martin, was prosecuted for shooting a burglar dead who was aiming to intrude Martin’s home. The Conservative cabinet reshuffle has brought Grayling into a promoted position to Minister of Justice, replacing Kenneth Clarke; Grayling is said to be bringing a harder stance into the role than Clarke, but how tough is too tough?

“Grossly disproportionate”. That is the phrase Grayling is throwing around, saying that a homeowner can only use force to remove an intruder as long as it is not to a “grossly disproportionate” level, which to my mind already sets off alarm bells. Should this law come into place, and this term be used as a part of enforcing said law, what is seen as “grossly disproportionate” to one person may well be changeable for another. If the judge who is ruling the case has been burgled him or herself, then this could lead to subtle cues being subconsciously fed into the judge’s decision making. They could press in favour of the homeowner more so than the burglar than, say, a judge who has never first hand experienced an intruder in their home. The risk for me, in this situation, is that there is far too much room for interpretation within this phrase, and whether the burglar has rounded up the family and held them at knife-point (as in the Minir Hussain case, 2009) or has simply broken in and nicked a camera, could change the decision as to what degree the burglar was intruding. Isn’t intrusion intrusion; black and white, illegal, end of story? Or is the mindless torture that an elderly woman with boiling water and brute force worse than someone smashing a window, and stealing something to sell on? This is where the line becomes blurred.

Let me say now: I am never in favour of harming another human being. I am against death penalty; I am against corporal punishment; I even was offended by people celebrating the death of another human being, even if it was Saddam Hussain. However, I am in favour of family’s being able to protect their homes, individuals being able to look after their belongings and loved ones, and private property remaining a safe, and enclosed area where someone can feel safe. I think the notion of ‘home’ should never be undermined, and as seen in the latest burglar alarm advert (I’m a sucker for marketing) – it’s not always what is taken, but what is left behind. Intrusion can cause huge amounts of psychological damage upon the victim, and I do not believe that anybody should be subjected to that kind of fear in their own home.

Let’s look at it another way: when a pedestrian runs out in front of an approaching car, even when the red man is shown, the driver is automatically prosecuted for dangerous driving if they are even a smidge over the speed limit. The pedestrian acting foolishly is automatically not to blame, and it is seen as should the driver have been driving at the limit, the collision may not or would not have happened. So, why should a homeowner be prosecuted for chasing a burglar out of their house with the use of force when the intruder was the one who initially broke the law? When the burglar walked into the house, they were aware of the risk of the homeowner being there to force them out physically/the driver was aware when speeding that they were putting others on the road at risk. The dilemma stands as this: a homeowner is protecting their home from an intruder, but they are prosecuted for attacking the law-breaking burglar. “No! That is unfair! They are keeping a criminal out of their home!” some may argue. However, does the law turning a blind eye to violence mean that the government is saying one wrong cancels out a consequential wrong-doing? Doesn’t this mean that, actually, beating another human being is okay, as long as they’re a burglar? Hm. Something doesn’t fit here for me.

This potential law is far too swamped in Gray(ling) (sorry) area for my mind. Yes, batter somebody who comes into your house. Does it mean it’s okay to end somebody’s life, or harm them through force just because they’ve entered your house illegally? That person has a family, friends, maybe a spouse and children; maybe money is so tough that crime is what they’ve been pushed to, or they’ve ended up in a bad group, turned to gang crimes, and have been coerced into breaking and entering. But then again, maybe they’re just thoughtless yobs, pinching stuff from your grandmother’s dresser. Yes – protect your house and family. What I really feel is, by this law coming into place however, is that a whole new gateway will be opened in which people will say that their actions in “the heat of the moment” need to be lawfully protected as well, and a floodgate will open, and unprecedented issues will arise. Human rights will be invoked, and homeowners will maybe begin to argue harassment is the same level of intrusion in terms of psychological harm to their family.

I am sooo not pro-burglar. I think that they should have all their stuff taken, or their house trashed, and see how they feel. However, I do not know still, how I feel about the legalisation of so-called ‘burglar bashing’, especially with such a loosely phrased T&C attached. My head is saying it’s fine, but my heart is saying, doesn’t this mean that the homeowner could be just as bad as the burglar? I could just be overly brain-washed by my slightly eccentric father, or I could be a child of the ‘Politically Correct’ Age. Or a total Leftie?

Maybe I need to invest in a guard dog to do my dirty work for me…

Britain: A-pathetic level of political interest

As a self-proclaimed nerd,  follower of current affairs, and newspaper trawler, I like to think I have a high level of interest in the world around me and the politics that comes with that. I definitely couldn’t name all the ministers in the paper, like one girl could in my A-Level politics class – she knew Alex Salmond’s birthday even. I’m not that keen, although I probably should be with my degree. I simply like to understand why things are the way they are, and then in turn, I feel I can moan about them without feeling like a moron, making blind statements like “I think the BNP should be the Prime Minister because of them Polish people getting our jobs”. Okay – a slight overstretch of the extent of apathy. Or is it?

I attended a family party a few weeks ago, and my cousin brought his girlfriend along for us all to meet (and my overly protective grandmother to judge – I digress). She asked me what degree I was taking, and my cousin then jumped at this chance to highlight how little his girlfriend knew of British politics. “Go on, who’s the PM?”, he smugly asked her. “Err.. Labour?”, she asked me, bemused. “See! She knows nothing!” he gloated gleefully. This led me to feel extremely disheartened that our future governments would be voted in by people who don’t know the difference between a Party and a Prime Minister; it also upset me that my cousin found it not distressing, but amusing, that his girlfriend was so blissfully ignorant, and unashamedly clueless about how this country is run.

You’d be surprised at how little people tend to know about the British government. Often, people who state regularly “don’t like them politicians, I hate them, I don’t trust none of ’em” could tell you no more than David Cameron’s name, and not actually name a policy that caused such distrust.

Worryingly, I found out that whilst at Sixth Form, the level of political awareness rose when people were let down by the government. Nick Clegg’s terrible mistake re:university fees made all of us much more aware of what the Coalition were planning, and not achieving. My school pushed for a mock election throughout all the year groups to try and get people interested in what each of the three parties could offer voters; people bunked from any assembly to do it, and even the politics students who were running for this campaign dreaded doing it because it was so difficult to stir up any enthusiasm from anyone. The problem was brought to my attention more so, however, when everyone seemed to jump at the opportunity to attend the protests organised by NUS when our headmaster permitted everyone the day off to attend. Nobody seemed interested in the positives beforehand, or even the prospect of free education at university; the real interest grew when that wretched fellow in the Lib Dems had lied to us!!

The general consensus is that all the Parties are the same. When my age group got our first vote, we mostly opted for the Green Party, because they’re the only ones who seemed to stand out and you can’t bash ’em for wanting to save the planet, really, can ya?! Maybe what needs to be done is not a lame promotion attempt by the government, of ‘DJ Dave and Nick the Nuttah’ rapping their policies and slating ‘that Ed Ball(sack) LOL!’ in an awful attempt to get today’s youth onside with the use of hoodies and talk from the ‘hood. No. What is needed is a genuine appeal from the MPs to not only the younger generation, but people who maybe find politics dull and overwhelming, to create bitesize nuggets of information, digestible by the masses. Question and Answer sessions where politicians don’t claim to listen to views, but instead actually listen, and then take these suggestions through to the Commons where people can see evidence that their voice is heard – an adjusted Question Time even!

Enough rambling and avoiding of questions – people hate you more than parking attendants when you’re a politician. Get to the point, accept that actually, sometimes, the masses (or ‘plebs’ – no names mentioned) can actually have some ideas worth listening to. Politicians are representatives – not paternal carers for the nation as a whole. Yes, they’re elected because they are more in the know than most about the workings of government. However, they are there to put across the wants of the people: henceforth, low and behold, democracy (another issue in itself… maybe another time).

Maybe apathy could be avoided, if the Government and Opposition approached the people more readily; doing a meet’n’greet in Asda in New Malden isn’t enough nowadays. People shine to Boris Johnson because, despite his Oxbridge background, he seems accessible and a ‘great guy’. No lofty, unapproachable air about him – just him, his mop of hair, and a zipwire. Conclusively, I reach the point that British interest in politics is waning, and in a big way. Let’s just stick Boris Johnson into Downing Street, and maybe we will recapture a little interest. Either that, or actually get Mr You-Can-Call-Me-Dave and his spineless henchman, Clegg, to re-think how the people should be listened to, and how their mishaps tarnish all other politicians reputations, putting them out of, to use a Ben Stiller related concept, ‘The Circle of Trust’. Actually, maybe we should just forget Stiller, and link it to De Niro.

Ebacc-k off, Gove..!

Taking note from a typical Conservative ideological notion of not fixing it if it ain’t broken, it seems obvious that it shouldn’t be GCSEs which are attacked by further Tory adjustments. The shambolic Coalition which is balancing in place as I type seems adamant that skirting around true issues is the best way to go. Gove’s insistence that the GCSEs need to be scrapped are a fine example of this. Correct me if I’m wrong, but surely it should be the teaching and the curriculum which should be changed rather than the way in which measuring a school’s success; that is, the examination process.

When initially speaking of the benefits of the Ebacc, Gove said they would “dramatically strengthen the position of core academic subjects in our schools, and stop the shift to less challenging courses driven by the current perverse accountability system”. This in itself raises the question, I am sure the Lib Dems should be asking themselves, as to whether the government has any place pushing academic choices rather forcefully out of the private sphere of a pupil’s life, and into the public sphere, being tampered with through the skewering of the measure of academic success. However, that is whole other kettle of fish, which I am sure I’ll end up rambling about at a later date. The true issue that lies with the change to a purely exam-based style with the Ebacc from GCSE, which currently operate using both examination and coursework, is the positive spin the Government is placing on the art of ‘cramming’.

As a student at university, and a previous, self-confessed fair-weather A-Leveller, I am no stranger to cramming. It really is an art form. One loads their bags full of energy drinks/caffeinated products/alcoholic beverages according to their work style, and spends around forty-eight hours minimum with match sticks propping their eyelids open, camped up in the library. However, this work style is not beneficial if the skills necessary for the exam which is being crammed for are also necessary for further education. If a pupil has taken their GCSEs in accordance to the A-Levels or Degree they wish to study later on, an Ebacc only encourages short-term study techniques, in that, it’ll float around their brains until the minute the exam invigilator says those immortal words: “Pens down, the exam is over”. As soon as they toddle out of the exam hall, nattering about the exam questions they “just didn’t get”, that is it! The knowledge has seeped out their pores and is left behind with only the evidence on their exam paper.

My point boils down to this: the only ones who are going to suffer are the pupils who are at a true disadvantage. This is what has rattled my cage. The Conservative shepherds have led astray (once again!) the Lib Dem flock, and there really is seemingly no concern for those at the Labour set-up Academy schools, or at schools near the bottom of the league table. The only pupils and schools which will flourish from the introduction of the Ebacc, are the private schools, where intensive tuition to prepare for examinations is provided, and pupils are hot-housed into getting consistent A* and A results with little, or no knowledge outside of what they need for passing the exam.

Henceforth, finally, we arrive back at my initial point. Apologies for the waffle in between. Basically, what I am getting at is that it should not be the measuring technique that changes. That’s like making a cake, and saying “I don’t have 4oz of butter, but I DO have 4g… Perfect!”. You’ll have the right numbers but the cake will be shite. What Michael Gove is missing (of many things) is the understanding that GCSEs aren’t the issue – the teaching standards and the curriculum are, and if the Government keeps the measurement of success consistent, then we, the masses, will be able to see improvements gradually, and the teachers will be working with what they already know. The cake will be a progressively better cake, and maybe, just maybe, one day, we can hope for a better Secretary of State for Education; wouldn’t that just be the icing on the overmentioned, metaphorical cake!?