As Weak as We Are Divided – Why “The Sun” Has Made Me Uneasy

Recently, I got into an interesting debate about The Sun – and I mean the newspaper, not the big hot sphere of gas. This discussion was particularly concerned with the front page of the tabloid yesterday, which featured an image of a Muslim woman wearing a Union Flag as a hijab, and the headline, “United against IS.” Now, this bold move by The Sun has received a lot of controversy since its publishing, and I for one can see why.

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It’s the warning implicit in the whole package – if you’re a British Muslim, be prepared to prove that you hate Islamic State as much as the rest of us do, or suffer the consequences. This pseudo show of solidarity, reads, to me, like a challenge to moderate Muslims in the UK, demanding that they stand and explicitly state that the jihadists in Iraq and Syria aren’t acting in their name, or risk being tarred with the same brush by the rest of us. It seems almost as though the paper was giving an ultimatum – either you’re an activist or you’re an extremist, and we’re as much at war with you as we are with Iraq.

This, surely, cannot possibly do anything but feed into the steadily-growing culture of Islamaphobia that is rife in this country. Any non-Muslim reading the paper on that day would have put it down believing that all British Muslims have an obligation to speak up and stand against IS, and that if they don’t, then they are complicit in the horrific acts being acted out by the terrorists abroad. The Sun claimed to be promoting unity with this spread, but how exactly they hoped to achieve it through such uncompromising means is beyond me.

The thing is, expecting British Muslims to stand up to the maniacs in Iraq who have bastardised their religion is all very well and good in the abstract. The reality is though, that these are people who are just the same as any others, who are just as – and arguably more – scared of Islamic State as non-Muslim Brits, who are struggling with prejudice from this country and oppression and hatred in the Middle East, who may have families in Iraq and Syria that could easily fall victim to IS attacks. They may even be people who are resentful of the attitude that seems to have been shown so blatantly in that Sun article, that Muslims are terrorists until proven otherwise. And demanding resistance or dissent from these people is asking rather a lot. Yes, you could argue effortlessly that we all have a duty to speak up against atrocities of the sort that IS commit and yes of course, we should all be doing everything in our power to help put a stop to it, but realistically, how many people have the courage necessary to do so?

In Nazi-occupied France during World War II, those who belong to the Resistance are today called heroes, but they were a comparative few. Indeed, even in Nazi Germany, the majority of people – though many objected to Hitler’s actions – stayed silent while he carried them out. The simple matter is that it is hard to stand up to your enemies, no matter how undoubtably wrong or wicked they are.

Does this mean we shouldn’t try? Absolutely not, but what it does mean is that ham-fisted campaigns like those in The Sun are creating expectations which put a lot of pressure on people who hardly need it. Issuing a call-to-arms by deciding that silence is equal to consent and demanding some kind of uprising is the wrong way to go about encouraging vocal dissent. Instead, campaigns like #notinmyname on Twitter which begin within the Muslim community should be encouraged, because the fact of the matter is that you cannot bully or coerce people into resistance – they have to take it up on their own terms.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

Let’s Talk About UKIP

The UK Independence Party, better known as ‘UKIP’ or, ‘BNP Jr.’ has had a fairly interesting time of it, lately. Ex-Conservatives Douglas Carswell, Mark Reckless and Arron Banks (the last a Tory donor rather than an MP) have all three jumped ship, and joined Nigel Farage in his slimy pursuit of power. Now, recently, UKIP has been garnering a lot of attention from the media, a fact which is odd when you consider that, for the moment, at least, they have less (elected) MPs and Councillors than the Green party, and which has led to accusations (and fairly reasonable accusations, at that) that there is a bias in the popular media towards them. Personally, I don’t have a good word to say about Farage and his lackies – the reports of outrageous racism, misogyny and homophobia would have done enough to dissuade me without quasi-Conservative economic policies and a complete disregard for the environment added into the mix – but it would seem, judging by the fact that they won 23 seats in the European Elections earlier this year, that my opinion is not an especially popular one.

The party, which positively leaks xenophobia under its poor guise of stalwart patriotism, has as its flagship issue independence from the European Union, and it’s faced a fair amount of criticism for this, not only from the pro-Europe lot, but also from those who feel that at the end of the day, UKIP are a one-trick pony. Their rise to notoriety, then, might be attributed to the cringeworthy tactics leader Nigel Farage has employed to ingratiate himself with “the man on the street,” – someone he couldn’t be further away from, being a graduate of the infamous public school Dulwich College himself – rather than his policies. Farage likes to pretend that his party has something for everyone, but honestly, the only politician the man seems to admire (other than himself, of course) is Vladimir Putin, so can we really trust a word out of his mouth?

Probably not, considering that he’s been claiming an £83,000 salary plus expenses for a job he freely admits to not doing. And it’s not just him, but the rest of UKIP’s MEPs, too, who are renowned for their record as absentees from the European Parliament. Hardly what one might call toppling the institution from the inside.

There’s no doubt that the UK Independence Party has muddied Britain’s political waters, making David Cameron feel a little antsy, and unfortunately, making it a whole lot harder for the rest of us to have a sensible discussion about the UK’s place in the EU without being shouted down by Farage’s right-wing disciples, who tend to be either ill-informed working-class people supplied with a scapegoat, or the exceedingly wealthy, who know that Farage is really about pursuing the interests of himself and people like him, and exploiting the working-class to do it. A politician through and through, he and his party may well pose a threat to the Conservative party – but I’m far more concerned about the threat they seem to pose to simple common sense.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

Action Against IS – to Bomb or Not to Bomb?

Today at Westminster, UK MPs voted overwhelmingly in favour of supporting the US in air strikes against the terrorist force IS in Iraq, with only a tiny minority of 43 opposed to the motion.

Now, honestly? I don’t know where I stand on this issue. The actions of IS have, of course, been deplorable, and I don’t think anyone would deny that they need to be stopped – not only because of the immediate humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria, but also because their extremism and brutality has encouraged Islamophobia across the globe – but all I can think is that Western intervention, recently – in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in Libya – has never quite worked out the way we want it to. This, presumably, is why Parliament said ‘no’ to military action in Syria in 2012. So a part of me wonders how, exactly, this will be different. Hopefully, David Cameron and Defence Secretary Michael Fallon have a better plan than Blair and Bush had back in 2003, but I’m inclined to doubt it.

The thing is, we start with air strikes in Iraq, and, though Cameron has warned that defeating the terrorists could take years, we don’t know how we will end. The Iraqi government has asked for help, and we’re promising to give it, but how can we know with any certainty that our actions will make any impact at all? Is this, as some of the more cynical will suggest, nothing but an empty gesture on our part, or is there a plan, a concrete plan, to defeat these enemies? And how much force is enough force? Do we stop, as has been decided today, with strikes only in Iraq, or push into Syria, too? Perhaps I’m just clueless, but it seems to me that there’s a whole web of issues here, and it will take someone far more qualified than me to even attempt to untangle them.

All I can say is that the shaky political situation in the Middle East seems like it’s been going since the Cold War, and it seems to me as if it will take a lot more than a show of brute force to straighten it out. But, as I said, IS need to be stopped, and if the people we trust to lead us think this will do it, who am I to disagree? I suppose, really, all we can do is wait and find out if we’ve made the right choice – as the venerable John Ramm (this blog’s namesake) might say: right now, it’s just too early to tell.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics

The One That Scot Away – Scotland Says, “No.”

Bad luck, Alex Salmond. Looks like the people weren’t quite ready for independence just yet. With an unprecedented 84.5% turnout from a franchise extended for the first time to sixteen year olds, the “No” vote won by a point margin of 10.6% – more than they’d been hoping for, no doubt, but still not a hugely substantial lead.

The final result stood at 45% to 55%, and everyone in Westminster breathed a sigh of relief – David Cameron especially, one would imagine, considering that his chances of remaining the Conservative Party leader in the event of a “Yes” result were practically nil. Alex Salmond, though, is no doubt feeling far from pleased with the result. His party – criticised for a long time as being a single-issue party much like UKIP or the Greens – has lost the cause they’d been fighting for, and one has to wonder what the future holds for them, now that the people have rejected their ideas of a bright, Nationalistic future.

However, they may still seize on Westminster’s promise for greater devolved powers – the brainchild of ex-PM Gordon Brown, who cast his own “No” yesterday, and who this victory, it could be easily argued, truly belongs to. If this is the case, negotiations on what, exactly, “greater devolved powers” really means will no doubt make for interesting changes to the UK, especially with regard to the West Lothian question. After all, if a Scottish Parliament becomes solely responsible for Scottish laws, but Scottish MPs can still vote on English issues, it won’t be our friends in the north complaining about democratic deficit. As it stands, England is the only country in the UK without its own Parliament – could Scotland’s demand for reform change that? It seems unlikely, at least, that Wales and Northern Ireland won’t soon be speaking up for more power.

All in all, even if this referendum will be dubbed a failure by some on the “Yes” campaign, at least one good thing has come of it – people in this “family of nations” are finally taking a serious interest in politics. Actually, perhaps there’s something else, too – it seems that Piers Morgan has honoured the promise he made on Sunday to leave if Scotland said no.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics.

The Iron Lady’s Calling Card

Margaret Thatcher. A name that evokes anger and rage in the hearts of some, whilst with others, it brings back some fonder memories of a political era like no other.

Thatcher’s name has been uttered a handful of times in the past few weeks leading up to the Independence Referendum in Scotland. Whether this is due to her infamous attitude towards Scotland’s now defunct industries, and how she dealt with them, or if it’s just a generational hatred for her which has been passed down to this new electoral generation, we cannot know. Some have even cast blame for the referendum upon her. This however, is simply speculation. One thing we can be sure of, is that her harsh, well articulated voice shall echo around the hollow, ligneous halls of the commons for many years to come. But what legacy did dear old Maggie really leave?

When Thatcher first took office in 1979, the country was in a state of disrepair worse than it had been since before the days of war. The Unions had finished off James Callahan’s political career and the public wanted a change, and what a change they got. The winter of discontent had struck deep into the heart of Britain during the later months of 1978, causing icy tensions on the streets and in the lower house. Thatcher swept to victory with a steady majority of 44, and would assert her dominance over Britain for the next 11 years. It was a shock to the world that a woman was now leading one of the most influential countries on the planet. She did not allow her gender to be an obstruction to the way she was viewed by the media, the public, or her fellow MP’s. Thatcher cast her iron fist down upon many more men than could ever have been perceived by the world at the time.

Thatcher reformed the way that people thought about the free market, as she subconsciously developed Thatcherism, a political philosophy and economic ideal during her time in office. In its most basic form, Thatcherism represents the idea of having a free market by which businesses have free reign and the Governments job is to stay as far away from intervention as possible. Thatcher wanted to make Britain economically great once more, and (to the dispute of some) she did. Thatcher pulled Britain out of the sinking hole that the previous Labour governments had thrown her into, and increased the country’s GDP by 29.4%, which is impressive. Thatcher also created a net 1.6 million jobs during her time in office, which is also an accolade to bear.

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It would be rude to forget Thatcher’s war, one of the only 20th Century wars to be dubbed a “good war”. The Falklands War lasted only two months, and a it was a war which created a wave of patriotism across the UK for Thatcher’s Government. Even though the Royal Navy took some serious losses during the conflict, Thatcher was still seen by the public as the woman and the leader, who had saved the Falkland Islands and lives of the British people who lived there. This would definitely not be forgotten.

For sure we can see that Thatcher was one of the greatest peacetime leaders we have ever had, it would be absurd to deny this. She managed to define what it meant to be a true, hardworking Briton again. Through her dominance in the commons and her staunch attitude for reform, Thatcher created a conservative vision that David Cameron could only dream to implement today. We can all rest assured that Thatcher and her actions have been immortalised, and what she did for this country will always be part of the lives of the forthcoming generations. Her calling card will remain, whether they like it or not.

Daniel Sulsh – A2 Politics Student

The Final Countdown – Scotland’s Big Decision

As anyone who has ever met me will know, I am far from a staunch, patriotic Unionist. I am, however, extremely concerned about the very real possibility that by this time next week, Scotland will no longer be able to call itself part of the UK.

As the referendum – lovingly dubbed #IndyRef on twitter – has drawn closer, we’ve all watched the campaigning on both sides heat up, with Westminster’s major party leaders (and the slightly less important Nigel Farage) rushing northwards in panic to plead with the Scottish people on the UK’s behalf. Everything from scare tactics about the economy to Gordon Brown’s DevoMax compromise to outright begging has been deployed from the ‘No’ campaign in the run up to tomorrow’s big vote, and yet, we won’t know if any of it has been to any effect until the votes have been cast and counted.

This is probably the biggest challenge to the constitution the UK has ever seen, so no wonder everyone’s talking about it – my question, though, is how many people really understand the impact a ‘Yes’ result will have.

One of the biggest weapons in the ‘No’ campaign’s arsenal is the uncertain future of Scotland’s economy in the event of independence. There’s been a lot of talk about whether an independent Scotland will be allowed to use the pound sterling as their national currency, and some, too, about large employers like Lloyds Banking Group, RBS, BP and Standard Life relocating their business to London if Scotland decides to call it quits with the UK. Now, as unemployment is already a problem in Scotland – though, granted, less of a problem than elsewhere in the UK –  one would assume that the people voting tomorrow wouldn’t want to risk losing the few jobs they have by making some of their largest employers relocate. If the Bank of England decides to stop Scotland from using the pound, as they’ve hinted they will, the fate of Scotland’s economy looks very bleak indeed, especially as Spain and Belgium – facing similar mutinies from within their own borders – will surely try to block any appeal from the Scots to join the Eurozone.

And that’s not all. An independent Scotland would not receive any tax income from Westminster – how, then, I wonder, will they possibly be able to continue to allow students free tuition? How will they afford to subsidise free prescriptions, and on that note, how will the NHS survive at all? It seems that Alex Salmond and his ilk are playing a very risky game with their country’s – and, of course, their party’s – future.

I understand that a lot of Scottish citizens keenly feel that there is a democratic deficit in the UK today, and I’m inclined to agree with them – I was too young to vote in 2011, but I certainly wouldn’t have voted for the Tory/Lib Dem coalition we’re stuck with now – but even so, the underdog spirit which is driving people to vote ‘Yes’ will not a country make.

Like the rest of the UK, I can only sit and wait in anticipation for tomorrow’s result to be announced, but I hope – for the sake of Scotland as much as for the sake of preserving a historic union between nations – that voters will think very carefully before they cast their votes tomorrow. After all, there will be no coming back from a ‘Yes’ result, and gambling the future of a nation on the slimy promises of the SNP seems a dangerous risk to take.

– Lana Wrigley, A2 Politics