Towns are Corbyn’s Key to No 10

The UK and its citizens are divided across the spectrum. Leavers are pitched against remainers, the young against the old, the affluent against the impoverished, graduates against non-graduates, but perhaps the biggest divide is between the towns and the cities. For years governments have seen and tried to use cities as engines of economic growth, and hoped that their increased prosperity would fund and carry along surroundings towns.

Towns have been left behind, especially when it comes to politics, and definitely when it comes to the Labour Party. Labour was a party founded on the working class focusing on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, but in recent years has become a party of the middle class, of ‘socialism fans’ as it were. Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever. That’s not to say that town equals working class and city is equivalent to the middle and upper classes, but there is a strong correlation between the two.

Labour is currently stockpiling member support and votes in strongholds and major cities like London and Manchester, and this was as evident as ever in the election. The general election in June saw a 10.2% swing from Conservatives to Labour in cities but was just a 4.1% swing in towns. Labour made twice the gains among younger, middle-class voters in cities than older, working-class voters in towns, and gained the most ground in seats with increased capital. This is not just a recent trend, as the Tories have made a net gain of 13% over Labour in towns since 2005.

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No ‘Bregret’ Just Yet

Despite us having another 18 months of negotiations ahead of us, there were talks this week of whether the wheels had come off Brexit due to polling released by YouGov. The results not only had everyone questioning just where Brexit was heading (like anyone knew anyway), but even whether leaving the EU was a done deal due to changing public opinion.

So, what were the headlines? After 16 months, a record high 47% of those polled said they thought Britain was wrong to leave the EU, coupled with a record low 42% saying we were right to do so, a 9% net shift on the first 6 months of the year. 76% felt current negotiations are going either “quite badly” or “very badly”, compared to just 12% who believe talks have been positive. Almost half of the respondents believe a deal is likely, whereas 37% believe the opposite, and again almost half think a likely no-deal scenario would be “bad” for Britain. 48% believe the EU will come off better, whilst only a fifth think the UK will come out on top.

Theresa May’s handling of Brexit is also under fire, with nearly twice as many disapproving of her performance as approving (49% to 27%), a slight decline from last month, when the figures were 42% and 30%. 51% say that negotiations are proving more difficult than expected; a sentiment shared by both Remainers and Leavers despite ignoring such warnings during the referendum. Finally, more voters say that they have become more pessimistic about Brexit (34%) since the referendum than more optimistic (23%), highlighting the shift in toplines.

It’s hardly surprising we are seeing these results. Both the government and opposition have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other from one day to the next. Because of this, the likelihood of the UK crashing out of the EU seems to be increasing with every stage of talks. Having previously been the fastest growing G7 country, Britain is now the slowest. There’s a lack of investment as businesses are cautious about the future, real earnings are declining due to the depreciation of the pound, and the Office for Budget Responsibility has forecast a £15bn budgetary hit (the equivalent of nearly £300m a week).

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Labour’s Working Class Woe

It’s no understatement when I say that Britain’s class politics has been turned completely upside down in 2017. As highlighted by Rob Ford, ‘Labour, founded as the party of the working class, and focused on redistributing resources from the rich to the poor, gained the most ground in 2017 in seats with the largest concentrations of middle-class professionals and the rich. The Conservatives, long the party of capital and the middle class, made their largest gains in the poorest seats of England and Wales’. Labour shocked the country by winning in new places such as Canterbury, and the Tories continued to make big gains across the north of England.

For the first time ever, ABC1s are more likely to vote Labour, and those unemployed are now more likely to vote Conservative. As I’ve highlighted before, the UK currently finds itself more divided than ever before. The country is divided by Brexit, age, education, race, location, liberalism, and most notably, by class. Theresa May and the Tories have certainly been trying to angle themselves towards the ‘proud and patriotic working class’, those who are discontent with current levels of immigration, want beefed up security and defence, and predominantly want the UK to leave the EU. But the question is, has Theresa May won the support of working-class Britain or has the Labour party simply lost them?

Under Corbyn, working-class support for Labour rapidly fell to its lowest point ever, but this trend isn’t a short-term thing. In 1966, 69 percent of manual workers voted Labour; by 1987, only 45 percent did. Under Blair, Labour did increase its share of the working-class vote once more, but this was at a time where Labour picked up huge support from all segments of society. Between 1997 and 2010 support fell away; as highlighted here, for every voter Labour lost from the professional classes it lost three unskilled or unemployed workers. And since then, the trend has spiked.

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The Public Service Bulge

As Beth Simone Noveck, the former aide to Barack Obama, said: “What business do you know, what other sector of the economy, and especially one as big as the public sector, that doesn’t seek to reinvent its business model on a regular basis?”

Public services must reinvent and remodel themselves to deal with all challenges, especially future ones. One of the biggest future challenges is demographic bulges, the most notable being an ageing population. Over the next 20 years the population aged 65-84 will rise by 39%, and those over 85 by 106%. Due to an increased fiscal burden and a lengthy period of austerity under the Conservatives, the UK currently finds itself without the immediate capacity to deal with this, and services such as the NHS are now reaching breaking point.

It’s also not just healthcare. In 2016, there were an estimated 308 people of a pensionable age for every 1,000 people of a working age. By 2037, this is projected to increase to 365 people. An ageing population also means more bus passes, winter fuel allowances, and bereavement benefits. So how does the UK address this demographic bulge in terms of public services?

Of course, we need to be investing in technologies and innovations to improve our public services, but we must also think about how this is intrinsically connected to the demographic bulge. The improvement in technologies, the rise of smartphones, and anytime, anywhere access to information can help to revolutionise public services, make them more accessible, affordable, and simplistic, but it must meet the needs of the public it serves.

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New Labour: Because Blair Deserves Better

Earlier this week I was sitting with a colleague at work, and as it does quite often nowadays, the issue of politics came up. Despite writing about and following politics quite avidly, it’s something I tend to steer clear off at the office. It started when he brought up Corbyn. I tutted, or sighed – my usual Corbyn reaction – and we managed to waste about 10-15 minutes on various topics. Many things came up: Brexit, Trump, Clinton, but the main topic was Blair.

My colleague is to the left of me, although apparently, he was a Tory a few years back (then again Corbyn spent years voting with the Tories…). When Blair came up, he came up with the usual lefty arguments: Red Tory, Iraq… oh, that was it. I sighed again, I tutted again, I rolled my eyes with disdain. Earlier this week I watched Alistair Campbell’s interview with Owen Jones and I felt like I was in the same position with my colleague. It was just straight in one ear and out the other, and would not listen to any form of reason.

Tony Blair deserves better, and so does New Labour. New Labour did incredible things. New Labour rebuilt Britain and made it prosperous and progressive again after 18 years of Conservative rule. New Labour brought in Sure Start, the Good Friday Agreement, devolution, they halved homelessness, dropped hospital waiting times by 69%, brought in 39,000 extra teachers, 39,000 extra doctors, 81,000 extra nurses, increased benefits and tax credits, and upped school standards astronomically. They increased maternity leave, introduced paternity leave, almost eradicated child poverty, and brought in the first ever minimum wage.

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Generation Anxiety

Everything’s our fault, right? Whether it’s the fact we’re too lazy, too liberal, too promiscuous, or like one article I saw, not all of us youths have seen a cow, we’re constantly at fault it seems. I don’t like the idea of such distinct groups e.g. Millennials, Y, Z – so I’ll band us together for this one piece. Those between let’s say, 16 and 35, seem to bear the brunt of the bad news, and it’s no surprise that cases of mental health illnesses, including anxiety, are on the rise.

Is Anxiety new? Of course not. So why does it feel new? Why is it that anxiety is only now being recognised as a serious illness and divided into the subsets that it deserves? Like other mental health problems such as depression and eating disorders, anxiety is simply now more talked about, more open, and in times of such turmoil and stress, it’s arguably more severe. 21% of people rate their levels of anxiety at 6 or above, and the consensus is that anywhere between 10-30% of adults suffer, or are likely to suffer from anxiety at some point.

I’m not as open with anxiety in the same way as I am with my depression, and I suppose that’s because of the anxiety itself in a way. Many of us experience anxious feelings in some way, whether it’s simply difficulty concentrating or a full-blown panic attack, and it’s most definitely on the rise amongst young people. Rachael Dove highlights this, saying that 57% of female university students experienced episodes of overwhelming anxiety, and it reflects the issues many young people have in what is essentially the most important periods of their lives.

We know what older people will say, “Oh it’s technology, social media, they need to get off their phones”. Is it really that simple? There’s evidence for and against that statement. As highlighted here, four of the five most popular forms of social media harm young people’s mental health, with Instagram the most damaging. Of all the main social media websites, only YouTube was judged to have a positive effect on young people. Why is that?

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This is Not a Game, The Single Market Must Now be Fought For!

The idea that anyone can tell us what a Leave vote represented is folly. The referendum was based upon our continued membership of the European Union, not upon what the terms of a theoretical exit would be. The idea that the 52% voted to take us out the single market, the customs union, and out of entities such as the European Court of Justice is ridiculous. Yet that is the drivel being spouted, not only by the Tories but by senior members of the Labour Party. There is no precedent for our exit from the EU whatsoever.

Because of this, Brexit is an absolute shambles. The government have absolutely no clue what they are doing and contradict each other one day to the next, and so do the opposition. The only party with clarity on these issues are the EU, and they will be licking their lips at the prospect of two years of discussions with David Davis. With a hung parliament, and the government lacking their own majority to enforce such a hard Brexit, the Labour front bench could play a divisive role in the future of our relations with the EU, and whether we stay within the single market. But alas, they are now standing back. As Rob Francis puts it quite simply, Labour and Corbyn should be leading, not following.

Labour’s stance on Brexit is, let’s face it, is anybody’s guess. Last Sunday on Andrew Marr, Jeremy Corbyn said that a Labour government would leave the single market because it is dependent on membership of the EU, which is both wrong, and harmful. Norway is one example of a country who are not in the EU but have full membership within the single market, and Corbyn knows this. By Wednesday, his Chancellor said the opposite, then Dianne Abbott mimicked this before Barry Gardiner said that we should leave both the single market and the customs union!

I do understand the arguments behind Labour not landing on one concrete position regarding Brexit, as the party hopes to capitalise on a changing public mood and Tory mistakes. But there are times when national interest comes first. Leaving the single market would be catastrophic for the UK’s economy, and even if Brexit led to a Labour government, leaving the single market would make it even harder and more treacherous for Labour to meet their manifesto spending pledges. The IFS has forecast that leaving the single market for a free trade agreement could cause a £31bn hit to the public finances, extending austerity even further.

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