What is it that Divides Us?

Jo Cox gave her maiden speech in the House of Commons on Wednesday 3rd June 2015. Describing her constituency, globalisation, and immigration, Jo inspirationally said that “we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”. After her death just a week before the EU referendum, the hashtag and movement #MoreInCommon went global and ever since has been used as a means of attempting to heal the conflicts and divides in society.

Of course, it’s true in many ways. We are all the same. But there’s no doubt that we should be worried about the growing divisions festering around us all. Traditionally, the big divides were that of political party identification, this has since been replaced by simply: Remain or Leave. It’s understandable why; despite both party leaders playing down the issue, it will define us and our country for generations to come. The referendum formalised a deep cultural divide stemming across many factions. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, and towns against cities.

In the past, it was class that was the main predictor of a person’s likely voting behaviour. This has significantly narrowed, with both support for Labour among the middle class and support for the Conservatives among the working class rising by 12 points between 2015 and 2017. The big divide in voting behaviour is now age. At the 2017 general election, the generation gap was the largest since polling records began. Among 18-to-24-year olds Labour led by 35%, but among over 65’s the Tories held a 36-point lead. In the referendum three-quarters of 18-to-24-year-olds voted Remain, but two-thirds of over-65s favoured Brexit.

Education was also a big factor in both votes. In the 2017 election the Tories led by 22% among people with ‘low educational qualifications’, but those with ‘high-level educational qualifications’ plucked for Labour by 17% more. In the referendum, those with GCSE or lower qualifications voted 70:30 to Leave, but those with a degree voted 68:32 in favour of Remain. There’s also another reason for these stark contrasts: the direction and leadership of the two main political parties under current leadership. May’s Conservatives have lurched to the right, and Corbyn’s Labour to the left, and people are being forced to choose a side.

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A Year in Review

What a year it’s been – both for me, and this blog. When asked to describe 2017, people will think Brexit and the election, and despite watching the news in horror for most of the year, this has at least been good for my blog. I definitely haven’t had a shortage of items to write about. At the start of the year, I set myself the challenge of posting a piece a week, and I’ve kept to that without it (in my opinion) being detrimental to the quality.

So, what’s happened this year in my personal life? Not much to be honest. After the host of changes in 2016 which included graduating, new job, moving into my own flat, 2017 has been quiet. I’ve had a good year at work where I’ve had a raise, took on some side projects, and feel I’m getting closer to a promotion. Outside of work I’ve been involved in a lot of my own projects which I’m excited for, but currently I, unfortunately, do not have the time to knuckle down on them as much as I’d like.

2017 is also a year where my mental health has been relatively kind to me. Bar some low points in the autumn I’ve been fairly in control throughout the year, and I hope that can continue into the new year. One disappointment personally is that I am still very single. I obviously do not want to rush into a relationship for the sake of it, but I have been single for a long time now and am extremely sick of it. So, what are some of my highlights of the year…

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My Last Jedi Review

It’s fair to say it was a different film than any of its predecessors, as the Last Jedi pulled out all the stops to go, quite literally, out of this galaxy. It was long, but flew by, complicated, yet simplistic at its core, and I absolutely loved it. If you’re expecting a mirror to Empire Strikes Back in the same way the Force Awakens was a homage to New Hope, think again. Mark Hamill summed it up perfectly in the trailer: “This is not going to go the way you think” – whatever assumptions or theories you had in mind, throw them away.

Director Rian Johnson does all he can to put his own stamp on the long-running saga, and show the audience that it’s okay to flip things up and head in a new direction once in a while. The hype for this film was on another level, especially so with me, and I really had high hopes. I even went all the way to the cinema to watch it, something I very rarely do – and I was constantly reminded why as people talked, chewed, and even stood up during the viewing.

But back to the film, and Johnson didn’t waste any time in getting into the action. It opened with an impressive space battle led by pilot Poe, and ended with a spectacular sequence with Leia quite literally floating in space (it worked for me by the way). What didn’t was the early attempts to get the audience laughing, especially the cringe-worthy radio conversation insulting Hux’s pasty skin tone. By this point, I was underwhelmed, and felt uneasy, but luckily it picked up.

At this point, we moved across to Ahch-To and Rey’s attempts to bring Luke Skywalker back into the fold. Luke, the now recluse, was having none of it, and despite the jokes, the audience probably weren’t either. We wanted Luke on the frontline, leading the Jedi once more, and it took a while to get there. The Luke/Kylo Ren/Rey scenes around the island worked well, and the Porgs, again I liked. It’s common knowledge that Hamill wasn’t a fan of his character’s development, but he gave it all he got, and he perfectly fits the mentor/’one with the force’ role.

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The Loneliness Epidemic – and My Experiences

For a long time, loneliness has been the hidden demon plaguing so many people and only recently has it finally started to become a hot topic. We are living in a more disconnected society than ever, and loneliness has escalated into an epidemic. More and more people are living alone, and people are spending more time alone as well. In fact, we are the ‘loneliest’ country in Europe. The knock-on effects of this are plentiful, and a big issue to be solved because of the close relationship between loneliness and mental health.

Loneliness has been proved to be linked to increased stress, depression, anxiety, addictions, suicides, and even onto physical health issues such as dementia, high-blood pressure, and self-harm. Loneliness among those in work costs employers around £2.5bn a year and is shown to be twice as bad for older people’s health as obesity and almost as great a cause of death as poverty. This increased the burden on an already strained NHS, so it’s vital that the issues are addressed now.

Generally, when the topic of loneliness is raised it is regarding elderly who live on their own, typically after losing their partner. But often those that are forgotten are young people, who tend to feel lonely more often than those over 55. “Loneliness is a recognised problem among the elderly – there are day centres and charities to help them,” says Sam Challis who works for Mind, but for young people, there aren’t the same services to assist them.

So why is this? Is it simply we’re becoming less social? A poll from YouGov earlier this week would suggest so. Millennials are notably less likely to want to engage with others compared to their elders, with 18-34-year olds more likely to avoid talking to others across all scenarios put forward. Of course, this isn’t the issue, as let’s face it not many people like talking to strangers.

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Don’t Hold Your Breath on Another Snap Election

Many are pondering the simple question, when will the next UK general election take place? Due to the chaotic times at hand, many believe another early election is inevitable, and could well be next year. It’s easy to see why. The Tories have the slimmest of majorities being propped up by the DUP, Theresa May’s leadership is as strong and stable as a wet tissue, and she has enemies within her party waiting to pounce and drive her out of Downing Street.

However, I can tell you now there will not be an election in 2018, the reasons of which are plentiful. The first of which is Brexit. This week we moved onto the second stage of negotiations with the EU, which essentially considers the future relationship after we leave. This is where things get tricky, and it will take up most of the remaining 15 months before we leave. Expect very little time to be wasted on domestic policy until then, and there is no definitely no time to waste on another campaign and visit to the polls, no one in Westminster will want to risk it.

Another issue is no one in Westminster particularly is interested in even entertaining the thought of another election just yet. The Tories, first, do not want to risk the slim majority they currently hold, and their leader does not want to risk the house she lives in. The Tories also do not want to take a risk on their leader whom despite still being slightly more popular than Corbyn, would currently lose an election with Labour’s current slender poll lead.

The Tories will first want to find a successor to May, but not whilst she remains a useful tool. On the 2nd June, May told the 1922 committee “I’ll serve as long as you want me”, and that is quite literal. When the Tories decide it’s time to go, she will go. The party has no other leader ready to step in, and none of the candidates wants to take any of the flak from Brexit. Boris is pushing himself out of the picture, Damian Green might yet have to resign, Davis is beaten from Brexit, Rudd has a very dangerous majority, and Hammond is as out of touch as it comes.

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Club vs Country – A Clear Winner

This week a clip from BT’s Premier League Tonight show has been going viral, shared by fans, pundits, and ex-players alike. The concept is simple. Rio Ferdinand, Frank Lampard, and Steven Gerrard are asked about their England days, and why the ‘golden generation’ failed to deliver. The question wasn’t pulled out of thin air but was asked because of an interview with Rio that had taken place only earlier that week. In it, he talked about his friendship with Frank, and how it broke down during their playing days because of the club/country divide.

All three players were quite to the point in their responses, and their reasons were many. One was the issue raised by Rio in his previous issue. All three players were key players at top Premier League clubs, and Rio and Frank especially were jostling for the league each year with Manchester United and Chelsea respectively. In a league where the two sides shared the trophy, often with just a few points between them, neither player wanted to give up any secrets or show weakness to the other. This would mean avoiding each other whilst with the national team, eating apart, and would cause team factions to start appearing.

Jake Humphrey reacted with the shock that most England fans would. “So, were you effectively putting your club before your country?” he asked them all. They all immediately recoiled “no”, but all agreed that it would have hampered the national team. They listed off plenty of other reasons for the team’s failure: managers, formations, plans, injuries, and the expectations from the fans themselves. But it raises the age-old question, is a club now more important than a country?

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The First Brexit Budget

The big story of the past week was, of course, the Budget, not Philip Hammond’s most wonderful time of the year. After his disastrous first budget which featured the quickest U-turn in history, he was trying to play it safe, and it worked. It barely made the news, and all his rivals looking to get him out of the job will have to postpone their plans for sabotage. It was a budget that was meant to appease as many individuals and parties as possible whether it be Theresa May, Brexiteers, or even young people, and it was the first of many Brexit budgets.

It was described by Robert Peston as the most boring budget of all he has covered, and on the surface, he’s correct, but there were some very un-boring and worrying undertones. The big announcements were the stamp duty charge changes, including abolishment for house purchases of under 300k, the changes to Universal credit, the extra funding for the NHS, and the extra money for Brexit preparation in case of a no deal situation. But the big story was the OBR forecasts, and the rather bleak economic outlook we have ahead of us.

Hammond announced stagnant GDP growth forecasts for the next five years: 1.4%, 1.3%, 1.3%, 1.5%, 1.6%, this compared to the 2.5% long-term growth rate forecast just two years ago before Brexit. This is the first time in modern history that economic growth is predicted to fall below 2% in every forecast year. Borrowing is continuing to grow, and the UK national debt continues to rise, almost double what it was when the Tories took over from Labour in 2010. The Tories continue to blame this mess on the previous Labour government, but the truth is that all of this is on them.

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