EconStories.tv > what a concept!

I rate this Fear the Boom and Bust rap so much.  And I know I’m not the only one.  Being a historian, I’m really not a ‘quant nerd’, so this really helps break it down.

I’m really looking forward to the next installment which is being filmed at the moment.  However, I think that the portrayal of Hayek’s theory getting a raw deal isn’t a true reflection of current perceptions.  Especially as the Tories treat him as a saviour from the post-war economic decline.  Keith Joseph, his CPS & Margaret Thatcher infamously embraced monetarism and regularly quoted Hayek and Freidman.  It’s all the rage to bash Keynes: George Osborne frequently dubs Ed Balls a Keynesian, and reducing the deficit is the goal.  So I think this rap is probably more reflective of the perceptions in the US.

Also, can I just say the actors in this, the comedy rap duo Billy Scafuri & Adam Lustick of  Snakes,  are ones to watch. With or without the moustaches.

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Whether you are #YEStoAV, #NOtoAV or simply #MEHtoAV: there is no denying that the current system is in urgent need of reform.  Crucially, it will be ‘reform’ not ‘revolution’.  It is certainly something that the ‘conservative’ Whig Edmund Burke would understand.  The referendum on the Alternative Vote was agreed as part of the Conservative- Liberal Democrat Coalition Agreement 2010.  Under the current First Past the Post (‘FPTP’) system, you only get one choice, and as a result most MPs, 2 out of 3, of those elected in 2010, get to Parliament with less than half the voters on their side.  This is hardly a mandate to be decision makers and our representatives.  In contrast, with AV successful candidates have to do more in order to secure majority support.

So, why should there be electoral reform?  Under the current FPTP half of the seats in the UK are effectively safe, and are unlikely to ever change hands.  It is ridiculous for a single MP to have a secure seat for life, as it results to complacency and taking the voters for granted, clearly reflected in the MPs’ expenses scandal.  This goes a long way in explaining why there is so much voter apathy, and many people I speak to say that there is no point in voting, as their vote never counts.  In some seats, 7 out of every 10 voters wanted other candidates, but their views are ignored.  It is imperative that there is a constituency link, and that voters feel that they have a connection with their MP.  It is traditionally held that FPTP delivers strong governments although in the 1950s, 1960s and 1990s single party governments were not effective in governing alone.  Also, hung parliament was delivered under it in 1910, 1929, 1974 and 2010.  The most popular debate argument used is that FPTP offers a protection against extremism.  This is simply not true, and in town halls across Britain, BNP councillors have won power despite being opposed by the vast majority of mainstream voters.

These inadequacies with our electoral system must stop.  Yet many people are hostile to the idea of change, so what exactly is ‘AV’?  The Yes to fairer votes website explains that ‘It’s simple. The small change to the Alternative Vote (‘AV’) just means swapping the ‘X’ on your ballot paper for numbers. You can rate the candidates how you see fit, and so if your favourite doesn’t win, you can still have a say…. It’s as easy as 1, 2, 3…’  Importantly, not all candidates have to be ranked on the ballot paper: we will still be free to just place one ‘X’ by the candidate we think most suitable.

But why exactly is AV a better system?  First of all, the elected MP is more representative of the community, as they will have 50+% of the vote.  It will mean candidates will have to work much harder for your vote and MPs will definitely be more accountable. This very fact will mean voters will get more involved in elections, as they will feel as though their voice will make a difference.  It is a voting opportunity that will offer the chance of an honest vote, and the electorate will not feel as though they have to engage in tactical voting.

There are a few myths about AV that the ‘No’ camps have been propagating.  These need to be addressed.  Firstly, the implementation of AV will not cost £250.  This number has been plucked out of thin air.  Also, they obviously do not understand how government spending works.  The cost will be taken out of the relevant departments that run elections.  Also, AV is not far too confusing.  The British electorate do not need to be patronised.  All the voter has to do is rank the candidates, order of preference.  And this is how people voted in the London Mayoral elections.  The argument that AV helps the BNP is not true.  In fact, the BNP have already called on their supporters to back a ‘No’ vote. Currently as MPs can get elected with support from less than 1 in 3 voters, there is always a risk that extremist parties can get in.  In addition, if people say that no one uses AV, this is not true.  It is a tried and tested system.  In Britain, millions of people, charities, and trade unions already use it.  MPs themselves use it to elect their speakers and their officials, and political parties use it to elect their leaders.  The referendum is on 5 May: this is our chance to get some more accountability from politicians.

And another thing…

Image from mail online

At the end of Episode One (Competition), Niall Ferguson outlined what will be covered in next week’s show.  He asked the question, ‘Why was there no Isaac Newton in Istanbul?’

This is fair enough.  But I predict that next week’s show will be less historically accurate than the last show.  His expertise is economic and financial history, so how qualified he actually is regarding the intellectual, scientific and cultural golden age of the Islamic World is questionable.

His personal life should not have any bearing on his historical ‘research’, yet his relationship with former Dutch MP and critic of Islam Ayaan Hirsi Ali is another matter.  Historical interpretations are retrospective, and so will be inevitably constructed according to our schema, and are affected by our political beliefs.  I would usually say that using his personal life to discount his historical interpretation is an ad hominem argument.  However, his antagonistic and prejudiced views regarding Islam are well-known.  So It’s really hard not to imagine why he thinks ‘there was no Isaac Newton in Istanbul’…cue the monologue about harems, turbans and treatment of dhimmis.

The fact that he is sympathetic and champions the British Empire is not the problem: he is entitled to his own views.  (Although his nostalgia for Empire is odd, especially as he is Scottish.)  The problem is that this thoroughly subjective interpretation is being projected to the masses.  We are living in an age when people are living introspective lives and incredibly deep seated prejudices. I am not against accessible and populist history, but there needs to be a balance.

I am a historian.  And, having watched the first of Niall Ferguson’s latest promotional ‘history’ series, (which accompanies his book, The West and the Rest) I wanted to pull my hair out.

It is totally reductionist.  I feel sorry for the wider audience and the sort of pottage history that they are subjected to.  In fact, this is not history; it is propaganda.  Schoolchildren are already subjected to an introspective version of history – I certainly had no taste of world history in my formal school education before university.  And the fact that the Conservative led government could even consider the so-called ‘H-bomb’ to be an advisor for the history curriculum is an indication of where we could have been heading.

In this programme, Ferguson’s narrative covering the Anglo-Chinese relations in the 1840s was the most outrageous.  China was described as ‘monochrome’ and ‘ignorant’.  This was substantiated by the fact that the Chinese did not want any of the British manufacture, and how ornate handmade British clocks were cast away, demonstrating that the Chinese did not understand science. There is no denying that this was a period of stagnation in China, but context is crucial here.  Omitting key parts to how the Opium Wars occurred is not good enough.  It was absolutely simplistic for Ferguson to say that the Opium War began when the Chinese shot at British ships.  We have to understand why.  At the heart of it was the opium trade.

*****

Economic crisis

An infamous comment of Hart,  the Englishman who directed China’s customs service later in the nineteenth century, explains how China had, ‘the best food in the world, rice: the best drink, tea; and the best clothing, cotton, silk, fur.’  China had the best tea in the world, whilst Britain did not initially have useful commodities for the Chinese. Textiles such as wool and British cotton was not appropriate for the Chinese.  Yet, in contrast opium was highly valued and the British soon realised this.  Importantly, the Chinese smoked opium, whilst Indians and Arabs drank it.  Hence, there was a higher predisposition for there to be an addiction crisis in Chine.

‘Country Trade’ was a triangular web of trade that developed between England, India and China from the seventeenth century.  The Government of India (East India Company) commissioned the cultivation of opium in two Bengal agencies, Patna factories and the Benares factory at Ghazipur, which was sold to the Chinese in Canton.  The silver procured by these sales of opium was used by the British to purchase tea.

Before the crisis, China made great profit from the Country trade, and foreigners were subject to heavy financial burdens.  For example, incoming vessels had to pay measurement duty, cumsha (gift), pilotage, loading duties and other fees and this could total several thousand dollars.  These payments were made to the Hoppo through the linguist.  In addition, the Hoppo could get away with charging whatever he wanted as there was no published schedule.  Also, British trade was strictly restricted to Canton.

As a result, foreign merchants found loopholes and the private merchants, led my James Matheson held their opium vessels at the island of Lintin, and other ‘outside’ anchorages such as Camsingmoon and Hong Kong.  Without the restrictions imposed by the Canton officials, this illicit trade developed enormously, multiplying itself more than five times in little over a decade.

This led to a detrimental change to the system of trade, and a deep concern to the Chinese officials was the fact that trade was becoming very expensive.  In 1821 there was an unusual problem as opium in the Canton area was fetching $2000 a chest.  In addition, there was the great loss of silver.  The balance of trade had altered between 1829 and 1840 as only $7 million of silver was imported, whilst nearly $56 million of treasure dollars, sycee and gold was sent out of the country.  From the Chinese point of view the monetary equilibrium between the de jure legal tender, the copper cash, and the de facto legal tender, the silver sycee had destabilised.  Ever since Tang times the legal ratio of exchange between gold, silver, and copper was 1:10:1000.  So one thousand copper coins would equal to one tael of silver.  Yet in the Tao-Kuang period, the market value of copper had depreciated considerably.  In 1838 and 1842, 1650 copper cash was required for one tael of silver.

from heritage-history.com

As a result, many people struggled to pay their taxes with the additional problem that in the late 1830s Chinese consumers spent over a hundred million taels each year on opium.  Instead of seeking other currency reforms, they held it that the only way to alleviate the economic crisis was to stop the import of Opium.

In contrast, British manipulation of the Country trade bore much fruit and it became indispensable.  A tenth of Whitehall’s revenue came from a tax on tea, which is why the British government had a strong motive for making sure tea arrived from Canton without interruption.  An Act of Parliament required the Company to keep a year’s supply of tea always in stock.  The revenue which tea bought into the British Exchequer averaged, in the last years of the monopoly, £3,300,000 pa.  Furthermore, tea had become the raison d’etre of the Company’s commerce, as estimates of various witnesses before the Select Committee of the House of Commons in 1830 stated the Company’s profit totalling between £1,000,000 and £1,500,000 a year.

So crucially, the mentality was that if the British pubic could go on drinking their millions of gallons of tea each year, twice as many Chinese opium addicts had somehow to be created.

Diplomatic disaster

But the Opium crisis was a diplomatic disaster for the British.  There was no bilateral relationship.  There were huge cultural differences and Hsin-pao Chang and Peter Lowe argue this perspective, and explain that: ‘the clash between Britain and China represented the confrontation between two wholly diverse and uncomprehending civilisations between the brash dynamism of the Industrial Revolution and the serene confidence of the Confucian superiority’.  The biggest challenge in the relationship was the fact that there were huge misconceptions and a general lack of understanding.  In Canton, foreigners were given the title of fan kow (foreign dogs) and ‘the red-haired barbarians’.  But the British misunderstood the Chinese too.  This was perpetuated by the fact that the Chinese with whom the foreigners came in contact with were not the cream of the literati; the officials who came to manage foreign affairs in Canton were bureaucrats of doubtful integrity and scruples.  The British were intrigued in Chinese oppression, and  J. S. Mill asks in On Liberty ‘what sort of human beings can be found under such a [despotic] regime?  For example, there was the exhibition of a Chinese lady with a pair of small bound feet at the Grand Salon, 94 Pall Mall, London in July 1827.  Admission: one shilling.

The misunderstanding between the Chinese and British was aggravated by the fact that the British did not want to abide by Chinese customs and the fact that the Chinese were intransigent in their expectations.  For example, bearers of tribute knelt three times before the Emperor and at each kneeling put their faces three times on the floor.  The Emperor did this before heaven & his ancestral tablets.  It was also a thing required of previous envoys from Russia, Portugal, Holland, and Chinese Catholics did this to European missionaries.  In contrast, when Lord Macartney was sent on an embassy to Peking, he was determined to be treated as the representative of an equal power and refused to perform the kowtow, unless a mandarin also kowtowed before his own sovereign George III.  But the condition was refused by the Chinese.

And there was a huge language barrier, which was exacerbated by the fact that the British officials did not abide by the conduct of communications, and the Chinese were pedantic regarding this.  Captain Elliot, refused to use the specification of the term pin.  The Chinese were insistent that this be used.  Instead he used ching-shang.  This was interpreted as ‘presented before his high place’.  This had never been used in Chinese government documents. It was used in informal correspondence among friends of equal status.  As a result, governor-general Lin was greatly infuriated.  This clearly shows how both British imperialistic thought and Chinese intransigence got in the way of any diplomatic treaties.

Historic issues

Underpinning the Opium Wars was the Lady Hughes affair.  In November 1784, dinner guests aboard this ship were honoured as they left Whampoa.  A British gunner failed to notice and the blast killed a Chinese man and mortally wounded another.  The Chinese authorities demanded the person of the gunner.  This was refused.  So all English trade was stopped, and the Lady Hughes’s cargo was seized and held as hostage.  As a result, the Factory at Canon gave the man up.  It was felt that the most he could be charged was accidental homicide.  But one day it was learnt that he had been quietly strangled. Subsequently, it became a definite policy of the English not to turn men accused of homicide over to the Chinese for trial. This became an issue of contention, and the refusal of the British to hand over offenders meant that the disputes became issues of exterritoriality.  For example, in the last stages before the Opium War broke out, Elliot refused to hand over the murderer of Lin wei-hsi, who had been beaten to death by a wooden club on the head and chest.  Instead,   Elliot advanced fifteen hundred dollars to the family of the victim and a trial of six suspects on August 12 aboard the Fort William.

Events like these led to the most monumental event, indicating the harshness of General Lin’s implementation of the Law.  On March 24th, the  hoppo was ordered to stop all trade.  All the Chinese compradors and servants, whom he accused of transmitting messages for the foreigners, were instructed to withdraw from the factories; and finally he reinforced the guards and set up a blockade around the community.  Thus some 350 foreigners were confined in the 80,000 square yard hong area along the river for 47 days.  The order to leave was received by the Chinese servants, cooks, coolies and compradors at about 8pm. Within a short time an estimated eight hundred Chinese carrying their beds, trunks, and boxes left the hongs ‘as if they were running from the plague’.  By half past eight, there was not a single Chinese left.  Every night the factories were guarded by five hundred men, servants and collies drawn from several hongs and armed with pikes, spears and long heavy staves.  To Lin, the detention of the foreign merchants at Canton was the enforcement of Chinese law, the rightful punishment of a group of degraded opium smugglers and a fitting conclusion to the shameful period of the opium trade.  But to Elliot, the Chinese government had committed a serious piratical act against British life, liberty, and property and against the dignity of the British crown.  This was despite Palmerston’s insistence that Elliot maintained his dignity as representative of the crown and insisted in British subjects obeying Chinese laws.  On the 27th Elliot notified the commissioner that the opium would be delivered, and pledged to deliver 20,283 chests of British owned opium.  But there was delay in the delivery of Opium.

Pressure was applied to the British government by Elliot and the merchantmen.  The Opium crisis reflected that there was a clash of civilisations.  The conflicting personalities encapsulate this, involving point-scoring, power politics and issues of exterritoriality, and indeed created a highly pressurised situation.  This is why Palmerston finally agreed to send the 16 men of war, 4-armed steamers, 27 transports carrying 4000 Scottish, Irish and Indian troops to Canton.  The superior technology was no match for the Chinese defence.  Gladstone commented that this was, ‘A war more unjust in its origin, a war more calculated to cover this country with permanent disgrace, I do not know and I have not read of.’

*****

The biggest clue regarding what to expect from this programme is the spelling of the word ‘Civilization’…it has a ‘z’ in it.  This is what it is, an American perspective and a triumphant one at that.  Ferguson’s interpretation is patronising and rewinds historical revisionism backwards.  This programme is a joke, and I think that this historian is undoubtedly stuck in history.

image from London Museum

London is a shameful tale of two cities.

Whilst wandering around the London Museum, I was drawn to a simple poster bearing the legend: ‘Waiting for the Living Wage.’  This 1913 poster, designed by suffragist activist Catherine Courtauld, refers to the oppressive situation of powerless women employed as ‘sweated labour’. This poster is poignant and the parallels with the inequality we see in the workplace in London 2011, are striking.  Why do we have such a gulf between the rich and poor within this city?  ‘The Dispossessed’ campaign of the London Evening Standard has exposed shocking tales of poverty in our City, including unmarked communal cemeteries with four to a grave, revealing that 650,000 children in London live in poverty and how a teenage boy couldn’t apply to university because he couldn’t even afford the UCAS registration fee.  It’s simply not sufficient for an employee on minimum wage of £5.93 to get by in London.  How is it that men and women can be living in London today, and still be working in exploitative conditions?  This ought to belong to a Dickensian tale, not reality.

Grass-roots change

But people are organising and are doing something about this.  It is not right that cleaners at an international bank struggle to put food on the table, whilst the bankers gain millions in bonuses.  The Citizen UK’s Living Wage campaign began in 2001, when a group of East End residents launched a ‘listening campaign’, speaking to thousands of local people about what they wanted to see change in their community.  The same concern was raised repeatedly- that the demands of working life made it impossible for parents to spend the time they would like with their children and families.  The reason? The minimum wage was simply not enough to live on and parents were often forced to work two jobs just to make ends meet.  So, 1000 local people came together and voted to launch a campaign calling on employers to recognise their responsibility to end poverty pay.  In 2011, this campaign has lifted out 8000 working families out of poverty and has put £50 million into the pockets of working poor.

What is the living wage?

The London Living Wage is the hourly rate of pay that the Living Wage Unit at the Greater London Authority calculates each year.  Currently, the rate is £7.85 per hour.  It takes account the higher cost of living in the capital and the rate of inflation, which is needed to pay someone to allow them an acceptable standard of living above the poverty threshold.  According to the GLA Economics, it is “a wage [that] achieves an adequate level of warmth and shelter, a healthy palatable diet, social integration and avoidance of chronic stress for earners and their dependents.”  Significantly, leading organisations like KPMG, Barclays, HSBC, the Olympic Authority have gone Living Wage and have become influential advocates.  Academic research shows that it makes good business sense and increases productivity.

Politicians realise the momentum this cause has.  Support for the Living Wage Campaign was a key component of Ed Miliband’s Labour Leadership campaign.  On 15th January, Ed Miliband discussed at length in his keynote speech to the Fabian Annual Conference of his desire to implement the Living Wage, receiving rapacious applause.  The Tories are also getting in on the act.  Boris Johnson has long endorsed this campaign explaining, ‘I look forward to the day when we can say that no Londoner is paid less than the living wage.  During Citizen UK’s General Election 3rd May Assembly, David Cameron said of the Living Wage, ‘An idea whose time has come’.  This begs the question, why haven’t they done more then?

KCL: still not paying the Living Wage

The symbolic aspect of the Living Wage campaign is that it formed at a grass-roots level, and is a perfect example of ordinary citizens contributing towards the good society.  Most notable has been successful campaigns across Universities, including: Queen Mary; LSE; SOAS; Birkbeck; Goldsmiths; Institute of Education and more recently UCL and University of East London, being part of the Living Wage Paying Community.  This is the ‘Big Society’ in action.  This can be seen in the example of our very own Living Wage campaign at King’s College London.  Since 2008, members of the KCL community including students, academic staff and cleaners have been organising and pushing for its implementation.  I interviewed Diego, an ex-cleaner of KCL.  His story of how he managed moved me very much.  He explained that whilst working at KCL he had to take two jobs just to pay the bills.  He lived on the other side of London, but because he could not afford to pay for a tube, he had to get a bus that took double the journey time.  Despite having two jobs, waking up at 6 am and getting home at midnight every day, it was not enough for him to even buy a coffee.  His most powerful comment was that, ‘I’m not living, but surviving in London’.  Since leaving KCL his life has changed.  Diego now works for TFL and gets a significantly higher salary, enabling him to study English at college in the evenings.  Stories like this shows why we at KCL have such a high staff turn-over rate.  This is counter-productive.

We are trying to change this, and support all those that belong to the KCL community.  Petitions have been signed, campaign films have been produced and meetings have been held.  At last, on 13 December 2010 an announcement on the College Council’s website announced its decision:

‘At its meeting on 30 November, the Council of King’s College London endorsed a proposal for the College to work with providers of its outsourced services towards implementing the London Living Wage among their staff.’

This is clearly a significant step, and a proposal to work towards it is welcome.  Yet there is still much to do.  The fact is that in 2011, we are still waiting for a Living Wage.  To have people within the KCL community on inadequate wages goes against the College commitment of ethical business.  It’s important for us as members of a community to rectify the injustice that we see.  And the fact that UCL could commit to be a Living Wage employer before KCL means that this cause is even more urgent. This poster shows that a campaign for a Living Wage has existed much longer than most people have thought, and that it has as much relevance now as it did in 1913.

It’s that time of year: boxes ticked, application forms submitted, brushing up for those verbal/ non-verbal/ competency/ psychometric and what-not tests, fortunate ones sprucing up for interviews. And think of all those managers, clicking their knuckles awaiting the summer to see all those eager students and graduates willing to take the voluntary unpaid work.  Or internship, to you and I: the established stepping-stone to employment.

This is a subjective matter and clearly depends upon all the variables involved: the organisation, the staff, the type of work, your plans and your character.  If an internship means I’ll have to struggle financially in the short term for a couple of months yet gain long term benefits – I’ll take it.  It’s an investment.  The right internship can provide invaluable experience and the networks, knowledge and skills gained can take the place of a credit card.  Demonstrating that you have the edge on your CV goes a long way when wooing potential employers.  Of course, this is based on my experience of embarking on a full time, two-month unpaid internship last summer.  It was a drain, I was skint but I was open-minded, was clear and determined in my intentions that I needed to improve my skills and genuinely wanted to get a better insight into how politics work.  I met some of the most inspiring people, who genuinely care about society.  It helped that I was shown gratitude and was taken out for lunch a couple of times.  I developed my skills and became a more confident person.  Having already spent summers working in retail and made to feel lousy, uninspired,  and knowing that the minimum wage was all I was working for, I knew that I had nothing to lose in taking an unpaid internship.  Money really isn’t everything.

Let me be clear: ‘unpaid labour’ is just that. It’s exploitation, and it’s unethical.  It’s important to provide the legal definition of what constitutes work.  It refers to a set number of hours in which a person is engaged for an extended period of time and being given a defined role, rather than just observing.  The law says that anyone working at the age of 22 or over needs to be paid the national minimum wage.  In contrast, a volunteer is under no obligation to perform work, has no contract or formal arrangement and has no expectation of and do not receive any reward for the work they do besides having their expenses reimbursed.  The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills set up the Graduate Talent Pool, ( wouldn’t be surprised if it has now been axed)and the major concern is that graduates from less well-off backgrounds and those burdened with thousands of pounds of student debt are affected most.  I am that poor graduate and the fact of the matter is everyone else is taking unpaid internships anyway.  There’s a demand for it, especially when it has recently been announced that more 16-24 year olds are out of work right now than at any other time since records began.  Paid internships are gold dust, and having an unpaid internship under your belt will enhance the chance of getting a paid one.

Quid pro quo, or ‘something for something’- that’s what internships are about.  The unethical aspect of some internships is not the fact that they are being unpaid.  The unethical aspect is that the intern did not know what to expect and are exploited instead.  So being an unpaid intern should not mean that you have nothing to do, except refilling the coffee-machine.  I think it’s important for the individual to assess whether the internship is ethical or exploitative, but helpfully the Chartered institute of Personnel and Development has produced these guidelines:

  • Interns should be recruited openly, in the same way as other employees.
  • Interns should be given as much responsibility and diversity in their work as possible.
  • Interns should be allowed time off to attend job interviews.
  • Interns should have a proper induction.
  • Organisations should allocate a specific individual to supervise interns, mentor them, and conduct a formal performance review to evaluate the success of their time with the organisation.
  • On completion of the internship, organisations should provide interns with a reference letter.

Internships offer more than volunteering and random paid jobs.  What is important is that the employer is clear right from the beginning what will be expected, what will be accomplished, and what won’t be on the agenda.  They are supposed to make sure the intern will gain something genuinely useful.  If not, it’s not an internship then.

 

These are times of austerity.  The public should not be contributing for students to pursue subjects that will not benefit the country or the economy.  With a tight-fisted budget, practical and cautious choices need to be made.  It makes common sense for students to take prudent degree choices, in a time when there isn’t much scope for being reckless.  It is good advice for students to be fiscally prudent, especially at a time in which ½ million jobs in the public sector are forecast in the coming years.  They don’t have to heed this advice.  But if they want a job and pay off their debts as soon as possible and have some security, taking a utilitarian subject is the way to go.

In an ideal situation, people should be encouraged to pursue their passions.  But we have to tackle the deficit.  The Spending Review unveiled a 28% cut to local government funding over the next four years – down from £28 billion to £21 billion.  Building Schools for the future programme has been axed.  Universities are facing huge cuts.  It would be untenable for the coalition to cut benefits to families further, and the NHS has already been ring-fenced.  Most people would say that in times of austerity, training more doctors, nurses and teachers is the priority.  Most people would rather have a hospital than have millions spent on museums and art galleries.  Perhaps this is why the Arts and Humanities Research Council funding has been cut.  The Comprehensive Spending Review revealed how funding for teaching will be cut by £3.2bn and a further £1bn will be cut from research funding.  Of course, this is a difficult choice, but something has to give.

What this country needs is for people to graduate with good degrees in subjects that will help them to find jobs.  Between 2000 to 2007, graduates contributed to a 6% growth in the private sector.  This needs to be applauded and encouraged further.  Utilitarianism, that old Benthamite ideal, emphasises the moral worth of doing something that is determined solely on its usefulness.   So when Browne explains that ‘There are clinical and priority courses such as medicine, sciences and engineering that are important to the well being of our society and economy’, he is right.  It makes common sense.  I think we can all agree that funding people to save the lives of others is certainly a priority.  This is not to say that only the subjects that Browne mentions are useful.  Many other subjects have higher levels of transferrable skills.  The utility of a subject to the country can be measured in the way the graduate contributes and adds value to society.  This being economic or social value.  If certain subjects increase employability in a graduate, thus reducing unemployment and increasing the number of tax payers, this is what needs to be encouraged.

There is a fallacy that utilitarian subjects may be boring, or that students will not perform well if they do not take up subjects that they are passionate about.  No one is saying that everyone must study engineering or medicine.  Things only have a utility if you make it so.  There is a plethora of degrees leading to networking opportunities and successful jobs.  But there is no question that certain degrees provide an added advantage to the graduate by including internship opportunities with business partners.  This type of practical experience in the work place is invaluable now.  If students are offered such courses that will make it easier for them to find a job, it makes sense to encourage this.

We now have a situation in which some degrees that are offered are absolutely absurd.  This is at the taxpayers’ expense.  For example, the University of Plymouth offers a BSc Surf Science and Technology.  Even worse are Gambling degree at Salford and a degree in bed selling at Bucks New University.  You couldn’t make this up.  How on earth will such degrees provide transferable skills or employability?  If people want to pursue their passions this is fine, but it does not make sense for the public to be asking for the public to reach into their pockets to pay for this.

I am proud that I marched on 10th November 2010.  I was a part of the 52,000 students from across the country that showed how we stand in solidarity against the coalition government’s cuts.  People were angry.  Off course.  People did shout ‘Tory scum’.  F*ck the fees was written on placards.  The truth is the protest was not hijacked.  Most of the students that filled the foyer and the roof of Millbank were not anarchists, they distinguished themselves from those that were involved in violence and booed the idiot that threw the fire extinguisher off the roof.  But no matter how much the media has dictated the discourse of the protest by focusing on the broken windows at 30 Millbank, the main message is loud and clear: ‘No ifs.  No buts. No education cuts.’

There was gross sensationalism and misrepresentation from the media.  How many protestors were even aware with what was happening at Tory HQ (which, by the way, is owned by the Reuben brothers, prominent party donors whose fortune totals £5 billion)?   Images of students portrayed as violent ravenous orcs, that image of a masked man kicking at one of those glass plate windows and confronting policemen was constantly shown as breaking news on the 24 hour rolling news channels, and splashed on the covers of newspapers.  It was the issue of debate on every radio show.  The worst was on Newsnight, in which Paxman interviewed both Aaron Porter (President of NUS who condemned what had happened) and Claire Solomon (President of ULU, who had actually marched into Millbank) and focused completely on the ‘affirmative action’.  The next day the London Student sent out a poll asking students whether they agreed with the actions of Claire Solomon- it seemed as though this was becoming a witch hunt.  There was absolute outrage that Goldsmith’s congratulated students.  Students were being forced to align themselves in which camp they were in, the peaceful protestors or the violent ones.  This was all divisive, and shifted the focus away from the crux of the matter.

 

Emmeline Pankhurst said that, “There is something that governments care for more than human life and that is the security of property.”  The fact that no one is questioning how the government will smash up the future of so many is perhaps a reflection of this.  Yet, the boys of the Bullingdon Club are used to smashing up things and getting away with it.  What did we expect?

But, the fight is not over.  The NUS have not recoiled, but have launched the ‘Right to Recall’ campaign.  Despite Nick Clegg’s comments in his Hugo Young lecture on the 23rd November, ‘I know that more protests are planned by students tomorrow. I make just one request of those planning to protest: examine our proposals before taking to the streets. Listen and look before you march and shout’ – students still have the bottle to respond.

Emotional intelligence: the most Machiavellian trait?

This is a time of new politics.  A time when politicians are tying their belts tighter.  Politicians of different parties are coming together for the national interest.  This is a time when politicians will actually listen to the public.  ‘We’re all in this together’. ‘A new generation for change’…  Oh come on: get real.

A politician’s perceived ability to relate and empathise is important to the media.  Although we seem to be in an era of X-factor politics, emotional intelligence is as helpful as a wilted wallflower in the grand scheme of things.  Emotional intelligence takes a politician nowhere in the day-to-day running of this county.

We are all political animals, and we use whatever skill we may possess to win our battles.  Thus, having a strategic mind is most important.  Telling people what they want to hear is clearly an election winner.  It seems as though change is the watchword of the moment:  Barack Obama’s ‘Change we can believe in’, David Cameron’s ‘Vote for change’, Nick Clegg’s ‘Change that works for you’, David Miliband’s ‘Movement for change’, Ed Miliband’s ‘Call for change’…what a farce.  The same slogan has been regurgitated by every recent campaign, and people fall for it.  Politicians’s that depict themselves as understanding what people want are not demonstrating ‘emotional intelligence.’  It is clearly the oldest game in politicking, and it is a well-played and well-used political strategy.

Why else is there such a big deal made when a politician goes out of his way to get that photo shot of him kissing a baby?  Gladstone was dubbed the ‘People’s William’ because people thought they could relate to him: there is the familiar image of him, sleeves rolled up, with a shovel digging a hole.  Yet doesn’t this precisely show that politician’s do not have ordinary lives – I’m sure no-one takes photos of the ordinary Joe Bloggs whilst he’s working.  But off-course people fell for it, and they still do.

If anything, when a politician does show genuine signs of emotion, they are portrayed as weak or vulnerable.  Hilary Clinton infamously welled up whilst on her campaign trail.  She was asked, “How do you do it? How do you keep up … and who does your hair?”  She joked that she had help with her hair on “special days,” and that she drew criticism on the days she did not.  Her emotion was very visible when she explained, “I just don’t want to see us fall backward as a nation.”  Her voice was strained and she started to cry.  She continued with, “I mean, this is very personal for me. Not just political. I see what’s happening. We have to reverse it… It’s about our country. It’s about our kids’ future. It’s about all of us together. Some of us put ourselves out there and do this against some difficult odds.”  The right-wing press had a field day with this incident. ABC reported this moment by explaining, ‘Hillary Clinton publicly displayed the vulnerability and frustration those around her have talked about in recent weeks.’  Questions were raised: how can a woman that cries possibly be strong enough to lead a country?  Off course, this is absurd.  However, it demonstrates the fickleness of the media and the voters.  People want their politicians to empathise with them.  Yet when they genuinely do, it is a sign of weakness.

What really concern voters are politicians that can get the job done.  Nick Clegg became the country’s darling during the television debates.  His poll ratings were high.  Newspapers backed him.  What did it translate to? 57 seats out of 650.  Despite the cuts to benefits that the Conservatives announced and the outrage from the right-wing press (Daily Mail ran with headlines, ‘Now 230,000 MORE families will be hit by child benefit axe’), a YouGov poll demonstrated that 83% of those polled backed the Tories’ Child Benefit Cuts.  This clearly substantiates that the ability to show that tough decisions are being taken is a strength.  Ruthless sentiments and a ‘tough luck’ attitude may be infuriating, but at the same time is demonstrating that the government is taking action.  Dressing decisions as ‘medicine that is required’ is a skill in itself.  Giving people the perception that decisions are based on common sense and rationale is more important than to just appeal to their emotions.  So, in actual fact, emotional intelligence is not the most important asset a politician has.  The political knowhow of making people believe that it is or is not is the real skill.


As the newly elected Leader of the Opposition prepares for his first stint at Prime Minister’s questions, will the youngest Labour leader since World War II be the conviction politician that he presented himself to be during the Labour Leadership contest.

During the last four-months, Ed Miliband strategically defined himself against the front-runner of the leadership contest, his brother David.  David Miliband had occupied the centre ground.  So the only place Ed could go and pitch his tent was to the left.    He was bold when he said in an interview with the Guardian, “I think some people in the labour party are stuck in the New Labour comfort zone and think let’s just repeat the formulae of the past and that it’s going to win us the election.”  This certainly incensed militant Blairites.  But what else did they expect from the person they dubbed “the emissary from Planet F***?  New Labour has passed its sell by date: proven on May 6th 2010.

He was right to be humble and acknowledge that his party, in government for thirteen years, made mistakes.  He was right to admit that Labour got it wrong with ID cards, with 90 days, and to say that the Iraq War was a mistake.  It is farcical not to admit these mistakes: labour lost 5 million voters between 1997 and 2010.  However, it is not that simple Mr. Miliband.  You voted for 90 days.  You voted for 42 days detention.  You voted for ID cards.  You voted against an investigation into the Iraq war.  It takes more to be a conviction politician than to just say what sounds right.

He has started well. During the Labour conference, a new member joined every minute after Ed Miliband’s acceptance speech on Saturday 25th September.  For the first time in years, Labour’s ratings in the YouGov voting intentions poll surpassed that of the Conservatives, to 40 per cent.  He looked relaxed and did well in his first TV interview as leader on The Andrew Marr Show, especially when he coolly rejected claims that he was under the thumb of the Unions with, “I’m nobody’s man, I’m my own man.”  He was decisive in the way he replaced Chief Whip Nick Brown almost immediately with Rosie Winterton, demonstrating a fresh start.

But the truth is, the public do not know much about him.  Currently the Tories are painting him as ‘yesterday’s man’, backed by Kinnock and the Unions.  (Come off it.  In fact, he may tack right in order to prove this wrong.)  He was silent during the Conservative party Conference, on a week when it was announced that there will be a capping of benefits, an end to universal Child Benefit and the introduction of a married couples tax break.  This silence looked hesitant, not strategic.  He needs to be vocal and stand up for his values now.

Yet, he has done well to instil a lot of optimism to rally the ‘new generation’ behind him.  Peter Hain explained how, ‘Ed’s the unfinished article’ and ‘that’s great…You’ll see how he grows.’  He has done much to increase awareness of the Living Wage campaign.  He lacks the New Labour instinct for spin and sound bites. This is positive; it makes him seem more genuine and perhaps will facilitate a different kind of politics.  He has the ability to speak passionately, leaving the impression that he sincerely believes what he says.  He takes the time to explain.  When I asked Ed Miliband what he would do to address Labour’s erosion of civil liberties, he genuinely sympathised and explained in length that he will push for policies to protect civil liberties.  When I pressed him further and asked him how people could be certain to trust him and that he really would change things, he said, “You have my word.”  I think he gets it.