The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. You know that. But it sets an interesting context for the country’s political parties. It’s only been 6 months since the vote, but we’ve had a change in leadership in the Government, a challenge to the leadership in the Labour Party, utter chaos in UKIP, and a change in leadership in the Green Party too. On Tuesday, the Electoral Commission released the Q3 figures for political party donations for 2016. This shows where parties are getting their money from in the period straight after Brexit.

As ever, it still shows the stark differences that exist between the “big three” (or two) and all the others. But there are other interesting things in here too – that, aside from public funds, the Labour Party received nearly 90% of its funding from trade unions in Q3, and since the referendum, UKIP’s funding has dropped by around 97%.donations-chart-1Unsurprisingly (perhaps) Labour are the top recipients of donations with nearly £4m in income in Q3 2016. Remember, this is during just three months. The Tories received just under £3m. The Labour figure is unsurprising because they receive the most money from public funds (around £1.7m), which is mostly made up of short money from the House of Commons, as the official Opposition. Stripping out the public funds tells the real story – this is paid largely for parties to do their jobs, after all.donations-chart-2

If we do this, the even less surprising outcome is that the Tories are the highest recipients during Q3 2016. The Tories raked in nearly £3m again, with Labour on just over £2m, the Lib Dems on just over £1m, and everyone else trailing miles behind.

The scale of the financial might of the Tories, Labour and to some extent the Lib Dems is clearly on view here (though at a reduced level compared to Q2 2016, it must be said). The Lib Dems alone, perhaps continuing to benefit from a post-Brexit surge of warm-feeling towards them, received almost as much as every other party, bar the Tories and Labour, combined.

The Green Party existed on donations of just over £10,000 during this period, around 20% of that coming from the Greens’ London MEP Jean Lambert alone. Total donations are only ahead of UKIP as UKIP made the strange decision to not accept short money. Bizarrely, the BNP received more money than both the Greens and UKIP combined during Q3 – through a single donation.

UKIP are a really interesting story here. Endowed with vast wads of cash for the first 6 months of the year, they received a (comparatively) paltry £43,000 in Q3 2016. So following the referendum, it looks as though donors have fled UKIP in droves – they received £1.2m in Q2 2016. It will be a big challenge for Paul Nuttall to run the kind of operation Farage has been able to run if he doesn’t get the ridiculous amount of money UKIP were previously receiving for a tiny political party.

Another interesting insight is looking at where these donations came from, particularly the Labour Party. For the Tories and Lib Dems, the biggest two groups donating were individuals, then companies (including here both limited liability partnerships (LLPs) and ‘Friendly Societies’ – largely cooperatives, the greatest chunk being the Co-Operative Ltd). It may be unsurprising to learn that trade union funding took up the greatest proportion of Labour Party funding (after public funds). But what may be surprising is that it accounts for 88% of the party’s (non-public) funding during this period. Individuals donated just £78.000 to Labour, against £1.9m to the Tories and £765,000 to the Liberal Democrats. Companies donated just £36,000 to Labour (including, interestingly, the Canary Wharf Group) but £628,000 the Tories and £103,000 to the Lib Dems.

Labour could be raking in lots of small donations, like the Sanders and wider Democrat campaigns did in the US in recent times, but with competition from a number of sources, not least the party-within-a-party Momentum, it might not. But it looks quite worrying for them that they have all but shed big donors during this period – companies or individuals. This may be a good thing for politics, but perhaps less so when the Lib Dems and Tories are rather raking it in from these sources. Corbyn is lucky he has the trade unions on side more than ever, but they’re pretty much bankrolling the party at this point. As ever, the real question is – when will the argument for public funding of parties win over the public?

As for the smaller parties, it just shows how important individual members and small donations can be. The Green Party apparently turned down a £250,000 donation around the time of the Richmond by-election for ethical reasons. It just goes to show how much difference this kind of money could make.

N.B. This data does not include donations below a certain value (depending who it was made to), nor other income such as membership fees – so there’s more money coming in there for example from Labour’s new members – and it doesn’t include the Northern Irish parties.

It is also worth remembering that figures here are inevitably going to be comparatively lower than for earlier periods in the year, given Q1 and Q2 were in the run up to a series of elections across the UK, and the EU referendum, which will have seen companies and individuals donating big.

 

 

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This week appears to be the time for another mid-term Cabinet reshuffle, as the Government promotes and demotes, switches and, er, ditches, Ministers for a variety of reasons. But, as with many staples of the strange political system we have in Britain (the government getting to call the date of the election and half the weirdness that goes on in the Commons spring to mind), it seems to go on without any wider questioning.

There are, of course, many legitimate reasons to move or replace Cabinet Ministers. Chief among them are of course resignations or deaths of ministers, MPs losing elections, or even under-performing ministers. But the mid-term Cabinet reshuffle is almost expected (it hasn’t even been a year since the last one) – it’s like a football team being expected to be active at every transfer window. But unlike playing football, I’d like to think running the country is more complex and requires a greater skill-set.

In the last Labour Government, for example, John Reid had, in the space of 9 years, been Transport Secretary, Leader of the Commons, Secretary of State for Scotland, for Northern Ireland, Defence Secretary, Health Secretary and Home Secretary. There were six different Home Secretary’s during the 13 years of Labour. Moving ministers around to different portfolios seems to suggest one of two things – either ministers are supremely talented people, able to turn their hand at anything from healthcare to defence – or that they are supremely untalented people who can be shifted anywhere with no real consequence as its the civil servants, political advisers and so forth who do the real work.

The truth is probably somewhere in between, but what it really indicates is that mid-term Cabinet reshuffles are almost always superficial and cynical exercises held by governments (and the opposition, it must be added) to boost their ratings and give a false sign that new and exciting things are happening. Much of the time, ministers in the most “important” positions remain unchanged – Chancellors and Deputy Prime Ministers are usually particularly safe in their role, Foreign Secretaries slightly less so. The fact that it is usually less “important” ministers that are moved gives more weight to the accusation that nothing of any real consequence is happening.

David Cameron’s latest ploy appears to be to increase the number of women in the Cabinet (current Dave to women ratio following Chloe Smith’s resignation is 4:4) in an effort to trick women into thinking he cares with less than two years left before the election. But why now? Why weren’t there more women in Cabinet from the start? It’s all about polls.

And so one wonders – why do you find so little questioning of the validity of this pointless and superficial exercise? Why should the government (and again, the opposition) be able to get away with generating plenty of news coverage without any real scrutiny of just what they are doing (or rather, that they are barely doing anything)? Once again, there are good reasons to move Cabinet Ministers around into new positions. Certainly, new ministers may indicate a change of policy. Ultimately though, they are rarely more than a figurehead for something that was happening for other reasons anyway. It is hard to think of times when there could be a non-cynical reason that requires four, five, six or seven ministers to trade jobs. So instead of talking about what different appointments say about the current government , how about we talk about what going about this whole process says about this government, or any other in the same position?

Another day, another horrific attack on innocent people. This goes on every day, whether in Kenya, Somalia, the US or Iraq at the hands of Islamic radicals, in Yemen or Pakistan from US drones, or in a number of other places around the world at the hands of the crazed and the dangerous. It’s happened in Kenya all too often before as well, from attacks on the US Embassy in Nairobi in 1998 to more recent attacks in the past year.

Before today, Kenya had recently been in the news for a different reason. The trials at the International Criminal Court (ICC) of individuals including Vice-President William Ruto and President Uhuru Kenyatta has lead to a furious backlash both in Kenya, where the parliament has voted to rescind Kenya’s membership of the court, and in Africa more widely, in statements by the African Union (AU) which allege the court has a bias against African leaders. Indeed, the only other current state leader to face an ICC warrant is Omar al-Bashir, of Sudan. But this could be interpreted less as an attack on Africa, and more an indictment of the UN Security Council, whose members have protected leaders and individuals from other continents, particularly those of permanent members.

The attacks in Kenya have been claimed by al-Shahbaab, the militant Islamic group active in Somalia. Kenya has been involved in the African Union force in Somalia, AMISOM, since 2011. In a similar manner to the ‘blowback’ the US has received by intervening in Muslim countries, Kenya, as well as Uganda and other countries involved in the AU force have seen retaliatory attacks by Islamic militants as a response to their involvement. Kenya of course has a self-interested reason for their involvement in AMISOM. Indeed, their involvement only came after launching semi-independent sorties into Somalia. With Kenya bordering Somalia, they’ve suffered incursions by Islamic militants including al-Shahbaab in recent years, including attacks on tourist areas. This is of course bad for Kenya’s reputation and economy, as well as the obvious suffering it causes to Kenyans.

So Kenya is the centre of two current examples of international relations in action, which pull it in different directions. Some Kenyan’s have used Kenya’s role in Somalia and the ‘sacrifice’ it makes, with the horrific unintended consequences seen in events like today, as further fodder to dismiss the cases against its leaders at the ICC. Ruto and Kenyatta are up at the ICC for their alleged role in stoking the violence that followed elections in Kenya in 2007. These trials remain important for setting precedents in international law, particularly as they are early cases for the ICC. To their credit, Ruto and Kenyatta’s cooperation with the ICC is welcome, especially given the atmosphere in Kenya and Africa and the attack on their sovereignty that the trials are perceived as.

However, even though double standards are commonplace in international relations, particularly with the most powerful states (just look at the United States or Russia’s recent role in Syria), it’s important to maintain that a state, its people, and indeed its leaders, can be afforded support and condolences in times like these, but that this doesn’t mean that its leaders should themselves be immune from accountability. Both the trials at the ICC and the role of AMISOM (ideally) serve to strengthen international law and improve security and accountability around the world. States are amorphous and can do good just as they can do bad. Russia’s role of “peacemaker” in Syria is a testament to this right now. As such, support should be afforded to Kenya now, and this may take the form of delaying or suspending (temporarily) the trials at the ICC, but the trials at the ICC serve the same purpose that Kenya will now be looking for – justice.

Earlier in the year, to earn some money whilst I wrote my thesis, I was looking for a part-time job. Having recently graduated, I’m lucky to be in the same business once again, though obviously slightly more invested this time around. Consequently, I’m having less success.

This isn’t a post about the process of job applications per se; finding jobs, writing them out, and so forth. No, this is a post about the applications themselves. More specifically: the kind of crappy application forms and processes certain employers think are appropriate and somehow haven’t had the decency to change.

Give that we’re still in a dire economic situation, with mass unemployment, especially mass youth unemployment, employers can be forgiven for trying to make it easier to sift through hundreds of applications. No problem there.

But what is the problem then? Well, my guess is the average job seeker is looking for a job. It’s a hunch I have. But most job seekers aren’t idiots, so they’ll be applying for more than one job. Two jobs. Perhaps three. Maybe even many jobs. Job applications take time (unless of course you just want a CV and cover letter – in which case we love you). Making the process convoluted, confusing, frustrating, unnecessarily time-consuming and so forth – there’s no justification. I’ve seen some pretty crummy things in the last 8 months in the 75+ applications I’ve made. Most you won’t think are that bad, and they aren’t. But it all adds up, and it needn’t be this way.

I’m not going to name names, mind you. I’m a job seeker, not an idiot.

There are a number of types of annoying job application, so I’ll start with the one most people will have had experience with.

CV Breakers

You have a CV. You think it’s a good CV. It has all the relevant information; jobs, skills, education, maybe some other exciting things such as hobbies to get employers to go “wow”. But no, CVs aren’t good enough here – application forms only.

Well, that’s fine. Application forms can be a good thing. They make you think a bit more and you may gain some insight into what the organisation is like by the kind of things they ask.

But why do so many of them essentially just ask you for a CV and cover letter in their own pro-forma? Yes, I know it helps them with their bureaucracy, but it makes applications a massive pain.

Some forms, despite this, are still easy. One just required details from my most recent job, then just the job title, organisation and dates from my others. And only information from my degrees.

But others ask you to list every job. And every duty. And achievement. And the address. And dates. And salaries. And more. Some may ask for bits and pieces of this. And more. The same goes for education.

For many applications, people will just copy and paste from their CV. But this is still a needlessly time-consuming task. But other applications require far more effort to say, essentially, the same thing.

Crap online applications

The worst experience I’ve had of this was an HTML only form on a single page. No ability to save any entry, yet asking for as many details as the average application form. Of course, as I pressed submit, it crashed. I gave up on that job.

A recent application gave no details about how to apply after clicking the “Apply” button. It gave space to upload a CV and a “further information” box, then “Save” or “Cancel” buttons. I assumed this was, as with many applications, the first page to register some details, assuming I’d have room for a supporting statement later on. After clicking “Save” and finding I’d applied for the job, I realised that was what the “Further information” box was probably for.

Another application had a “Back” button on every page. So, after spending over 40 minutes on the application, I skipped forward a bit to see how long the rest of the application was likely to take me. Incidentally, this is another bugbear – applications that don’t tell you how long they are until you, well, get to the end. But anyway. I got to the last page (it would have taken at least another hour). The “Back” button disappeared. I could cancel the whole thing or submit it. Half-complete or not at all? I tried half-complete and emailed them to see if I was able to fix it. I didn’t hear from them again.

Patronising, novel and pointless

Mostly in the part-time job field, I found a number of applications that insulted my intelligence, and I would hope most people’s. The first took me on a tour of a cartoon town, responding to certain questions from the townsfolk about, if I remember, dealing with customers and so forth. This was to get to the application form, as I discovered when they decided I wasn’t right for the post. Stupid cartoon people.

Others ask stupid questions such as “what kind of pizza topping would you be?” as if you can accurately gauge someone’s personality by their preference for being things on pizza.

There are also those that employ personality quizzes, usually run by third parties, which repeat similar questions over and over again to assess you. Eventually you aren’t sure if you’re answering honestly or how you think they want you to answer. It’s pointless.

There are more, but there are also some good examples…

Speaking as a job-seeker, a good job application should not be over-burdensome (it can certainly, and should certainly, be challenging), will be engaging, thoughtful and tell you something about who you are applying to.

One recent example did just that – it asked for a CV, as CVs tell you a lot about somebody anyway, regardless of content – and then asked a few, word-limited, qualitative questions that specifically applied to certain aspects of the job and job specification. Rather than just asking for the same information as your CV and then asking you to respond to everything from a job spec, it picked apart the role and asked for specific instances, experience and knowledge in key areas.

I’ve seen this done to the extreme in other applications, but these applications ask in the scheme of 10 questions or so, with no indication of intended brevity. They take a long time.

Another thing I’ve found useful is setting (short) tasks, as these are a good test of a prospective employee and give a lot of insight about the job – though usually this comes after an offer of an interview

Ultimately, it’s always nice to be able to just send the appropriate CV and a well-written and relevant cover letter, but we can’t always have it that way. This has been a bit of a rant, and it’s certainly not the end of the world. But given it’s an everyday experience for most people, the least employers could do is make it as hassle-free as they can.

I’d be interested to hear what experiences anyone else has had with crap job application processes? And what can we do about them? Have you ever complained about a particular application?

I like statistics and I like football. These two things go together very well. As the new football season is but one night’s sleep away, I thought it might interesting to take a look at how representative the Football League and Premier League are across England (as well as take a detour from my usual political posts).

A little while ago I got into an extremely exciting discussion centred on which county Aldershot Town were from. Football League teams and English counties have always been interesting to me. Coming from Essex, for as long as I can remember, we’ve had just two teams, Southend United and Colchester United, both of whom have shuffled up and down (though mostly down) the 2nd, 3rd and 4th tiers of English football. In recent years, Dagenham and Redbridge have joined us to make it three professional league teams across the county (well, two and a half). Even so, given our proximity to London, it always seemed a paltry number of league teams, especially for the 11th biggest and 7th most populous county in England. But then I began to think.

In terms of ceremonial counties, there are 48 in England. There are 92 English (and the odd Welsh) football league teams at any one point. That means that if evenly distributed, the average number of teams per county should be just under 2. However, given that London alone has 12 professional clubs, this number goes down considerably.

Returning to Aldershot Town, the person I was talking to mistakenly placed them in Surrey (rather than Hampshire). After being corrected, we realised we couldn’t name a single league team from Surrey. As it turns out, that’s because there aren’t any. However, in writing this article, I discovered that there are in fact 10 counties in England without a single league team: Bedfordshire, the City of London (not a shock), Cornwall, Herefordshire, Isle of Wight, Northumberland, Rutland, Surrey, Warwickshire and Worcestershire. This means nearly 21% of counties in England are without a professional team. The total population of these counties is over 4 million people.

In contrast, there are more Welsh teams (Cardiff, Swansea and Newport) in the English football league than teams from these 10 counties, Cheshire and Kent combined.

So let’s put the Football League in perspective. As the new season approaches, I decided to work out the representation of English League football teams by county for the season 2013-14. This first table below shows the top 10 counties based on the number of league teams per county.

Rank County No. Teams
1 Greater London 12
2= Lancashire 7
2= Greater Manchester 7
4 West Midlands 6
5 South Yorkshire 5
6= Nottinghamshire 3
6= Staffordshire 3
6= Devon 3
6= Merseyside 3
6= Essex 3
6= West Yorkshire 3
6= Wales 3

Unsurprisingly, Greater London comes out on top, with Lancashire and Greater Manchester and the West Midlands trailing behind. Surprisingly from my point of view, Essex comes 6th equal. Given that just five counties, Greater London, Lancashire, Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire account for 40% of English football league teams, Essex and those around it don’t seem to fare too badly.

Rank County Points
 1 Greater London 38
2 Greater Manchester 18
3 West Midlands 17
4 Lancashire 14
5 South Yorkshire 13
6 Merseyside 10
7 Wales 9
8= West Yorkshire 8
8= Tyne and Wear 8
9 Staffordshire 7

This second table ranks the counties based on a points system, with 4 for a Premier League team, 3 for a Championship team, 2 for a League One team and 1 for a League Two team.

Once again, it isn’t a shock to see Greater London way out on top and the top 5 remains relatively unchanged. The only major differences this table makes is to drop Nottinghamshire, Essex and Devon out of the top 10. They place 12th, 14th and 19th on this measure. Unsurprisingly, the more teams you have, the more chance you have of seeing higher level football.

Things get more interesting however when you look at the number of teams in a county based on both its population and its area. This should give a better idea of how well represented each county is.

Rank County Area/km2 Km2 per team
1 Greater London 606 50.5
2 Bristol 110 55
3 West Midlands 348 58
4 Greater Manchester 493 70.5
5 Merseyside 249 83
6 Tyne and Wear 209 104.5
7 South Yorkshire 599 119.8
8 Lancashire 1187 170
9 West Yorkshire 784 261
10 Nottinghamshire 834 278

Going by area alone, Greater London just pips Bristol and the West Midlands to being the most highly represented county in England. Bristol is the second smallest county in England and would have made the top ten even if they had only one of Rovers or City in the league. Lancashire is by far the largest county in the top ten, and does well due having the equal second highest number of teams at 7.

The largest three counties in England: Cumbria, Cornwall and Cambridgeshire share just two teams between them, meaning just two teams in a total area of 13720km2. That’s over half the size of Wales.

The most interesting table to look at is looking at representation by population in each county. This is the measure that arguably matters most – physics tends to limit the number of fans who can fit into each stadium – so just who has the most choice in England?

Rank County Population People per team
1 Lancashire 1,461,400 208771
2 Bristol 428,100 214050
3 South Yorkshire 1,343,900 268780
4 Nottinghamshire 1,090,600 363533
5 Staffordshire 1,098,300 366100
6 Buckinghamshire 756,600 378300
7 Devon 1,135,700 378567
8 Greater Manchester 2,685,400 383629
9 West Midlands 2,739,800 456633
10 Merseyside 1,380,800 460267

On this measure, as absurd as it may seem to say, people in Lancashire are the most spoilt. For every 208,771 of them, there is one team in the English Football League. Again, Bristol are well served, but then if Sheffield or Nottingham were their own county, they too would have similar levels of representation. Devon and Buckinghamshire are surprisingly well represented. There are around 380,000 people for every team in Greater Manchester, meaning Old Trafford could conceivably sell out 5 times and Eastlands 6 times every week.

But what about the Priestfield Stadium in Gillingham? Of the counties with at least one team, Kent has the highest population. If people in Kent wanted to only support their most local league team, they could fill the Priestfield stadium nearly 150 times over!

You may be wondering what happened to Greater London. Based on representation by population, Greater London falls way down to 21st in the table, with around 683,000 people for every team. So despite 13% of English league teams being based in London, London is not as well represented as nearly half the rest of England. My own county of Essex fares only slightly better, coming in 17th place.

So if you’re a Blackburn or Morecombe fan, spare a though for the poor folk of Cornwall or Warwickshire. And next time you’re thinking about criticising your friend who lives in Worcestershire for supporting Manchester United, think twice. After all, the biggest side in the whole of Worcestershire is Kidderminster Harriers.

————————————————————————————————————————————–

You can download the data for Excel yourself here. Full table below:

County
Number of teams
Points total
Population
Pop. per team
Area/km2
Km2 per team
Bedfordshire
0
0
617,000
N/A
1235
N/A
Berkshire
1
3
863,000
863000
1262
1262
Bristol
2
3
428,100
214050
110
55
Buckinghamshire
2
3
756,600
378300
1874
937
Cambridgeshire
1
2
806,700
806700
3390
3390
Cheshire
1
2
1,028,600
1028600
2343
2343
City of London
0
0
7,400
N/A
2.9
N/A
Cornwall
0
0
536,000
N/A
3563
N/A
Country Durham
1
1
902,500
902500
2721
2721
Cumbria
1
2
499,800
499800
6767
6767
Derbyshire
2
4
1,019,500
509750
2625
1312.5
Devon
3
3
1,135,700
378566.667
2590
863.333333
Dorset
1
3
745,400
745400
1021
1021
East Riding of Yorkshire
1
4
590,800
590800
957
957
East Sussex
1
3
800,200
800200
698
698
Essex
3
4
1,729,200
576400
1417
472.333333
Gloucestershire
1
1
861,700
861700
1216
1216
Greater London
12
38
8,196,700
683058.333
606
50.5
Greater Manchester
7
18
2,685,400
383628.571
493
70.4285714
Hampshire
2
5
1,176,600
588300
1455
727.5
Herefordshire
0
0
183,600
N/A
842
N/A
Hertfordshire
2
5
1,119,800
559900
634
317
Isle of Wight
0
0
138,400
N/A
147
N/A
Kent
1
2
1,731,400
1731400
1442
1442
Lancashire
7
14
1,461,400
208771.429
1187
169.571429
Leicestershire
1
3
980,800
980800
833
833
Lincolnshire
1
1
1,042,000
1042000
2687
2687
Merseyside
3
10
1,380,800
460266.667
249
83
Norfolk
1
4
859,400
859400
2074
2074
North Yorkshire
2
4
1,072,600
536300
3324
1662
Northamptonshire
1
1
693,900
693900
913
913
Northumberland
0
0
316,300
N/A
1936
N/A
Nottinghamshire
3
6
1,090,600
363533.333
834
278
Oxfordshire
1
1
654,800
654800
1006
1006
Rutland
0
0
37,600
N/A
147
N/A
Shropshire
1
2
473,900
473900
1347
1347
Somerset
1
3
910,200
910200
1610
1610
South Yorkshire
5
13
1,343,900
268780
599
119.8
Staffordshire
3
7
1,098,300
366100
1048
349.333333
Suffolk
1
3
730,100
730100
1467
1467
Surrey
0
0
1,135,500
N/A
642
N/A
Tyne and Wear
2
8
1,104,100
552050
209
104.5
Wales
3
9
3,064,000
1021333.33
20761
6920.33333
Warwickshire
0
0
546,500
N/A
763
N/A
West Midlands
6
17
2,739,800
456633.333
348
58
West Sussex
1
2
808,900
808900
769
769
West Yorkshire
3
8
2,227,400
742466.667
784
261.333333
Wiltshire
1
2
684,000
684000
1346
1346
Worcestershire
0
0
566,500
N/A
672
N/A
Sources: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ceremonial_counties_of_England_by_population
Image

Green Party leader Natalie Bennett and UKIP leader Nigel Farage on BBC Question Time last week

I usually refrain from blogging about UK party politics on here, but my allegiances are well known, so I’ll drop my own rule. And there’s a lot to talk about, especially this week.

The UK media are hyping up the UK Independence Party beyond belief ahead of the local elections this Thursday. Even if the polls turn out not to be an exact prediction of what we will wake up to on Friday morning, it’s fair to say that UKIP’s share of the vote is going to increase somewhat dramatically in this election. This is not to say they will gain many seats, I would be surprised if their total ended up near that of the Green Party by the end of this week. However the biggest indication of the effect of their vote will be the losses made by the Conservative Party, i.e. to what extent they split the right-wing vote.

This is unknown territory. Whatever we think about Labour and know to be true, the Conservative Party have been largely unopposed on the official right-wing of UK politics for decades. However faux-left wing the Labour Party and Liberal Democrats have been in recent years, anyone with mild left-wing sympathies has gone to them and not the Conservatives when it came down to it inan election, especially those under First Past the Post (FPTP). More so, on the left , the Green Party has made gains in certain places and at certain times, and of course in Scotland and Wales the SNP and Plaid Cymru make things even more complicated. On the right, the BNP have only ever made fleeting inroads, and have all but imploded. A series of ramshackle right-wing parties, such as Veritas, have come and gone in quick succession but have generally failed to make an impact on the Tories’ claims to the right wing vote. UKIP’s false air of respectability, and slew of ex-Tory members and candidates has changed that. And this is significant for the left.

For too long, Labour and to a lesser extent the Liberal Democrats have been able to claim most of the vote of the generally left-leaning voter to a large extent as a way to keep out the Tories. Under FPTP they have at times been able to argue that, in particular with the Green Party, a vote for the Greens is a vote for the Tories. The weakness of the system so eloquently explained by Reform Cat. If you have one party that 40% identify with, and 2 parties that 60% identify with, that one party will almost always get in under FPTP. A similar allegation, however spurious, was made with relation to the Green Party in the USA in 2000, when the Democrats’ Al Gore lost votes to Ralph Nader.

But however queasy the rise of UKIP and their divisive and discriminatory policies and candidates makes you feel, it could have a silver lining. Now there are Conservatives saying “Vote UKIP, Get Labour” (something they have, admittedly, said at times since 2004). Of course, Labour and the Lib Dems are also likely to see some of their voters drift to UKIP, but a majority of UKIP supporters are Tory supporters, as this Yougov composite poll suggests, so the gains they are likely to make will surely outweigh the losses. There are only so many real conservative voters. They are not a majority, they just benefit from people having more choice on the left, and a faulty electoral system. With the rise of another conservative party, the Tories may finally be having some real competition for once, rather than fighting over the centre ground with Labour.

So, if the UKIP rise is sustained, there can be stronger arguments for sustained support for other left wing parties, such as the Green Party. No longer can the mantra be that a Green vote splits the already split “left-wing” vote. If the Conservative Party is having to fight someone other than the centre-hugging Liberal Democrats and Labour Party for their votes, it means the Green Party can consistently challenge Labour and the Lib Dems for their voters. And it may also precipitate a lean to the left for Labour and the Lib Dems, if there are more voters to be found on the left than on the right, with the Conservatives and UKIP fighting it out. The centre ground will get muddied. There will be little benefit in hanging around there.

Whether any of this has any truth in it will depend both on what happens on Thursday, what happens in 2014 at the European elections, and then the General Election. In the mean time, it will certainly be enjoyable if we can take delight in both UKIP failing to gain many seats, and the Conservatives losing many. Anything more than that will be worrying, but it may have some knock-on benefits.

The response of some, as in the wake of Hurricane Sandy, to today’s events in Boston and Iraq is to lament the lack of coverage given to those massacred in Iraq compared to the currently likely to be endless live coverage of events in Boston. Why do we focus so much on some atrocities and not others in the media? And even personally? Specifically, incidents in “Western” countries over everyone else?

Those who point out this disparity are right to do so, but I’m not sure how much their ire is a complaint rather than saying they can’t understand why coverage is unequal. So why are we seeing a lot more coverage of the incident in Boston than Iraq?

1. Boston is more personal. Many more people will know people from Boston, people who have recently been to Boston, or recently been to Boston themselves. This is not the case with Iraq. I know all three are almost true for me. All events of this nature are tragic, whether you know people or not, whether you know a place or not, but certain events bring situations like this closer to home than others.

Ultimately, if I go to Boston, I expect it to be a place like my own town, relatively secure. If I go to Iraq, or if I know anyone in Iraq, the chances are it will be because it is insecure, rather than in spite of it. Most Iraqis I know and have known haven’t lived there for a long time, or don’t at all.

2. And this leads to the second reason. Boston is more like my town than anywhere in Iraq, due in part to the above. Does this make the victims in Boston worth more? No, but it does lead you to empathise more with the normality of the place and the extremity of the incident. This doesn’t meant I can’t empathise and don’t empathise with the victims and families in Iraq, but despite the magic of globalisation, I have no real connection to them – there’s a psychological distance.

3. Similarly, Iraq is unfortunately seen as an insecure country. This is seen as the norm rather than a departure from the norm. This is a sad thing to say, and shouldn’t be the case, but it is.

4. Particularly with certain incidents such as this, it happened at an event that happens in many places in similar countries (as well as Iraq), a marathon. Similarly, in the UK, we have the London Marathon in less than a week, which heightens the link.

I do wonder how we would get parity between these incidents. Do people want less coverage of incidents in Western countries? Or should we treat incidents in Iraq in the same way, with rolling coverage? The latter would certainly elevate the horror of events in Iraq, and perhaps change perceptions that this should not be the norm. Unfortunately this is never going to happen, at least for a long time, for a number of reasons – it isn’t feasible, it isn’t “attractive” for news organisations, and yes, there are inherent biases in the media which would also draw attention away from this.

Does this mean one set of people are more valuable than another? No, although it may seem that way. What can be done to bring about more parity between the treatment of such events, and bring about a greater sense of humanity between people across the world? I’d like to know myself. I’d like to hear other people’s ideas. I imagine we would need a major change in how we view other countries, which would involve making strong and direct links with people across the world. Essentially, do what globalisation “promised” – connect the world, but the whole world, not just half of it.

The murder of 26 people, 20 of whom were children, yesterday in and around Sandy Hook Elementary School was horrific. This particular shooting appears to have affected people, including myself, more than many of the other massacres in the United States and worldwide, due to its scale and its victims.

The conversation that has followed has included the predictable arguments of “don’t politicise the tragedy”, “this is not the time for debate” and so forth. But thankfully this time around these arguments are more muted, and don’t appear to be in the majority. Perhaps due to the shocking nature of the targets of the shooting. Even so, with President Obama alluding to actually doing something on gun control, this is an unfortunate but necessary opportunity to actually make sure he follows through.

Some of the debate to follow the horrors in Connecticut has centered around gun control vs. better mental health provision, as this cartoon does well to depict.

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This need not be a dichotomy. There is no doubt that most of the individuals involved in these sorts of massacres are highly disturbed. Call them terrorists, call them psychopaths, there is clearly something not right with them.

It is apparent that America has a massive mental health deficit which needs addressing immediately. But there are two issues with this. Firstly, if we improve services, there is no guarantee than individuals needing better access to them will use them. The very nature of mental health is complex and just by improving services, it doesn’t follow that people who need them will use them. People need support systems around them  to help them and advise them in the right direction. Many of those responsible for mass killings of the kind yesterday will not have such a system, or it will be massively deficient. This in itself needs addressing. Secondly, and following on from this, if someone isn’t listed anywhere as suffering from mental health issues, then people who sell guns will have no idea that they are selling guns to them. As such, mental health reform is vital, but not sufficient to reduce the chances of another attack.

So the question can be asked, in a similar society to the United States, such as the UK, why do we have so few rampage killers?.

I’ve known a few people over the years who would likely fit the profile of the perpetrator in this case and so many others. This is not to say someone psychologically disturbed, rejected, alone and afraid will turn into a mass murderer, but clearly every society contains people of this nature. Of course in the UK we have more access to mental health provision, as with so many other areas of healthcare, even if from what I’ve learnt from many friends it is particularly limited. But the other difference, at least here in the UK, is that we have vastly reduced access to extreme firepower. And there are three reasons why this is significant.

1. The psychological distance

I’ve never shot anybody or stabbed anybody, but I’d imagine it’s a damn sight easier to shoot someone from a distance than to get up close and personal and stab them, hit them, or any other close combat. In doing the latter, someone sees and feels their victim. Shooting someone removes someone from the reality of the act a stage further. The projectile makes the contact, breaches the distance, not the perpetrator. Unless someone was getting particularly high from the actual contact itself, a gun will likely always be a preference in this case, when available. There are other ways of killing lots of people, especially via chemical and biological agents, but often there is no guarantee that they will kill, and no guarantee they will kill who the perpetrator wants, which I imagine is the intention in many of these cases.

2. The practicality

As above, a gun allows someone to keep somewhat of a distance from their victims. Using a knife or something in close combat risks being overpowered by the person being attacked or someone else doing likewise. Obviously on top of this, guns allow someone to kill many people quickly, without having to move far, whereas a knife requires someone to go to each victim whilst the rest are able to flee. Other methods such as use of biological and chemical agents of course have massive practical limitations and require advanced knowledge and planning. Picking up a gun can be a relatively spontaneous act. With the former, there is a clear level of advanced commitment needed.

3. Killing yourself

Simply put, most people in these situations don’t intend to live with the consequences. Looking at a sample of rampage killers from the US, of the 27 most significant incidents since Columbine in 1999, 22 killed themselves, 2 were killed by police, and 3 were arrested. Another clear feature of a gun is it makes killing yourself quick and easy after performing such disgusting acts. Indeed, guns are the tool used in the majority of suicide cases in the United States.

These factors will surely play a major part in someone deciding to perform such a heinous act. The ease of access to firearms is thus a major contributing factor to the prevalence of these kinds of acts in the United States, and their absence, at least at such a high frequency, in many other countries.

But mental health reform is of course vital too. One thing mental health reform will do that gun reform won’t be able to at least is to provide help for those who already have weapons, and would be worried they might one day use them “irresponsibly”. Any reform on sales, or even an assault weapons ban, will not result in every assault weapon being handed over. Providing easy and decent access to mental health services will really help here.

But ignoring major reform of Americans access to weapons, especially assault weapons, will only be setting the stage for the next massacre.

As a Brit, America’s affinity for guns has at times shocked, appalled, and intrigued me. Trying to argue for gun control in the US seems to be akin to trying to argue for tea control in the UK. It’s almost part of the national  psyche. At least, it’s important enough to a large number of people that it would be political suicide. But unlike tea, there is a right to arms, or at least, a right to “bear arms”, in the US. While this is something patently bizarre to me, this doesn’t change the nature of the 2nd amendment’s existence.

Which brings me to the National Rifle Association. The NRA, to the casual observer from across the pond, seems to be staunchly anti-anti-gun. By that I mean that if there’s something that looks to be restricting guns going from one place to another, from one person to another, they aren’t having it and are going to fiercely oppose it. I’m sure many would reject this, and argue the NRA advocate measured gun control and gun safety education. But their opposition to the International Arms Trade Treaty (ATT), being negotiated at the UN in July, lends me to believe they haven’t thought through their position very well. And their position on the ATT is important as they have a lot of influence over every-day Americans and politicians.

Although I understand the NRA does not base its existence purely on the Second Amendment, without the Second Amendment the NRA would have a hard time doing what it does. The Second amendment, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed”, from many people’s understanding, exists to allow the people to defend themselves and others from the overarching powers of the state. By allowing the forming of “A well regulated Militia”, the state will fear to encroach on the rights of its people (though of course there are alternative interpretations). And I get that. Even from my staunchly anti-gun perspective. States are often quite clearly violent actors, and rather than defending their citizens’ security, are often the most prominent threats.

Which is why the NRA should support the Arms Trade Treaty.

Now, I understand that the ATT is being initiated and discussed by the very governments many supporters of the NRA and many others distrust. A number of people have said they can’t trust what will be negotiated: why would governments want to restrict guns if not to prevent citizens having them to defend themselves? In my opinion governments are going forward with this conference because of substantial pressure from civil society groups such as Control Arms. Just like the NRA is able to influence government, so can other groups. Another reason is because it is the right thing to do, seeing as around 2000 people a day are killed by armed violence worldwide. While the NRA may fear the trampling of the 2nd amendment, most of us supporting an ATT fear that the treaty just won’t do enough.

The NRA may refuse to see it, but the ATT is about establishing common rules for international transfers of arms, largely to governments. What the ATT is not doing is regulating domestic transfers to citizens. As such, governments have financial (and foreign policy) disincentives to the negotiation of an effective ATT. The US, followed by Russia, Germany, France, the UK and China, are the largest arms exporting countries in the world. It is only because of the hard work and persistence of campaign groups and certain states (especially Argentina, Australia, Costa Rica, Finland, Japan, Kenya and the UK) that the ATT is being taken forward, and these arms-trading states are being pushed to agree and compromise. So not only does the conference have no intention to regulate domestic arms transfers, there are many states that don’t want any regulation of international transfers either. Even so, many of the major arms exporting states are at least lukewarm rather than cold to a treaty. Those that oppose or have fundamental problems with a treaty are less financially interested, and interested for other reasons. These states include Bahrain, Belarus, China, Egypt, Iran, Kuwait, Libya, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Yemen and Zimbabwe. These are the states the NRA is helping when it lobbies against an ATT. These are the kinds of states that I imagine the NRA would not want to see the US turn into; largely totalitarian, largely undemocratic, and often a threat to their own citizens, as exhibited most recently in the countries of the “Arab Spring“, including Bahrain, Egypt, Libya, Syria and Yemen.

The NRA may suspect that the ATT goes further and does more than it purports to do. But the fact is, there currently exists no definitive draft ATT, let alone a definitive final product . Recommendations have been made, objections stated, compromises suggested. But until July, and maybe not even then, no document will exist. Thus, opposing the substantive existence of an Arms Trade Treaty is still to oppose what it stands for, rather than what it may contain.

Although he is by no means universally respected, when Newt Gingrich advocated for an extension of the Second Amendment worldwide at the NRA annual conference in April, he advocated for every person in the world to have the right to defend themselves, ostensibly from their governments. I’m sure most people in the countries of the Arab Spring and beyond want to defend their families from danger as best they can, just as NRA members and Second Amendment advocates affirm. One solution may be to arm them, something the ATT doesn’t effect. Another solution may be to substantially disarm their governments.

N.B. This post is aimed at those supportive of the NRA or of the Second Amendment. I fully understand the existence of divergent opinions on the nature of the NRA and its intentions, but addressing them, or the validity of the aims of the NRA, is not what this post is about.

A lack of time has prevented me from regularly blogging despite having myriad issues to write about.

However in a week I will be travelling to New York to work with Control Arms at the UN Conference on the Arms Trade Treaty. From which I will be blogging about my experiences of the UN Conference itself, as well as the substantive progress of the negotiations towards an ATT.

After this I intend to be making much more regular use of this blog. To begin with, I’ll begin with a post I wrote a few weeks ago and only just got around to finishing…