NOW THAT’S WHAT I CALL POLITICS! Vol 1 – We Almost Lost Detroit

Everyone has their own thoughts on politics. Most express these views after a few in the local. But for some there is only one way to tell the world their feelings; these artists pick up their microphones, guitars, synths and more. In this regular feature, I will look at the creations of these musical campaigners, their meaning and the political landscapes that created them.

Gil Scott-Heron blessed our airwaves with soft beats and well-constructed poetry for over 40 years. Over his career he used his talent to tackle some of the biggest issues of his time in America, from the Watergate scandal to race relations. However, I have chosen to focus on one of my favourite songs by Gil, recorded whilst working with Brian Jackson, ‘We almost lost Detroit’.

Behind its light percussion is the harrowing story of a meltdown at the Enrico Fermi Nuclear Generation station, 30 miles outside Detroit in Monroe County. Based on a successful book of the same name, this chilling tale almost became reality in 1966 when a zirconium plate inside the reactor became loose and restricted the flow of coolant causing several fuel rods to begin to melt. Operators successfully managed to shutdown the reactor before any serious incident occurred but naturally this scare brought the dangers of nuclear power to light in America. This was one of the first accidents of its type, over 10 years before the famous Three Mile Island accident.

In the song Gil Scott uses his powerful lyrics to express concerns about the nuclear power industry and if the citizens’ safety was taken seriously. Most notably alleging ‘no one stopped to think about the people, or how they would survive.’ Although extremely strong wording, it speaks for the huge concerns everyday citizens had over how private companies treated the running of this sensitive industry. This distrust for operators was stressed again by Gil Scott later with, ‘what would Karen Silkwood say?’. Karen was somewhat of a heroin for Nuclear power activism following her in-depth allegations made towards the Kerr-McGee Nuclear facility, where she was a technician. Her allegations included lack of sufficient training for staff and poor monitoring, leading to several cases of exposure including herself. Her story gained cult fame after her mysterious death in November 1974, on her way to show her findings to reporter David Burnham.

The safety of nuclear power and it’s continued use is still a hot topic to this day, particularly since the Fukushima disaster in 2011. As well as highlighting a more general safety concern of how unpredictable natural disasters can cause such effects, the incident again raised concerns of negligence by electricity companies. The final report on the disaster finding that the operator, TEPCO, failed to meet safety guidelines and also ignored a 2008 in-house study highlighting better protection was needed against tsunamis.

The disaster and following report had a huge effect on how many developed nations viewed the future of nuclear power, most notably with Germany promising to end their use of nuclear power by 2022. On the other hand many marched on with their nuclear programs and it appears private firms continue to invest in the industry especially since the recent agreement between the UK, EDF Energy and CGN to construct Hinkley Point C. Nevertheless with renewables becoming more and more cost effective, the debate will only get hotter.

Why I’m feeling pushed out of The Labour Party

Yesterday, Jeremy Corbyn was unsurprisingly re-elected as leader of the Labour Party. With another impressive result, increasing his mandate to 62%. This leaves me personally in a tough position. You see, I am someone many in the party now might describe as a ‘red Tory’ or a ‘Blairite’. The Labour Party has always been a big tent party, being home to all those on the left of British Politics and although we have seen conflict in the past, the party has almost always held strong and united under the common aim of serving the most vulnerable in society.

Now Jeremy has a good heart, he has clear and strong values and although I don’t agree with him on everything, most notably foreign policy and some of his economic views, I feel, like myself he is fighting for the most in need. Where the problems lie are some of the figures behind him. This leadership contest has been the most bruising yet and has completely alienated me from the Party I have supported my entire life.

Momentum started as a grassroots organisation supporting Jeremy’s leadership after his victory first time around, and over the past year it has grown exponentially. Many lines coming out of the group have been extremely worrying. During the back end of the campaign this year where they published a list of MP’s they would like to see deselected and this wasn’t the first time. After the vote on airstrikes in Syria there were many suggestions from Momentum to deselect MP’s who did not hold Jeremy’s view on the intervention. This blatant disrespect towards our MP’s saddens me greatly. Many of these MPs are hard working men and women who have dedicated their lives to the labour movement. Take Liz Kendall, one of the so-called moderates who I’m sure Momentum would love to deselect. This week alongside Norman Lamb and Dan Poulter she renewed calls for a cross-party commission to tackle the horrific funding gap in our NHS. This is someone we should be happy to have to working with us, fighting to keep our National Health Service one of the best in the world, not being set aside as a traitor by our members.

And it’s not just threats of deselection over the past 12 months there have been several claims of abuse on our MP’s. Threats of rape, violence and Antisemitism appear to have become common place. The Labour Party feels like it has been taken over by a mafia gang with the levels of abuse we are seeing. The abuse against women and the Jewish community hits home the most, as we are the party that have always fought for an egalitarian society.

This is definitely not what Jeremy Corbyn would have wanted to bring to the party after being elected 12 months ago but it is definitely his responsibility to stamp out. And we have not seen that from Jeremy, yes he condemns the actions of these certain individuals but words aren’t enough. For The Labour party to be seen as a safe place for all thought on the left of British politics we need him to take action against these groups as ultimately they are acting in his name.

So where does that leave me? A self-described social democrat who wants to fight and campaign for a government with fair policies giving the poorest in our society the ability to prosper, protect our liberties and regulate business in order to help our workers and consumers. All while keeping our people safe and secure. That is a question I can’t currently answer. I want to stay with the party I have voted and supported my entire life, but it just doesn’t feel like home anymore.

An introduction to the West Midlands Combined Authority

In 2016 the Cities and Local government act came into law. This act allowed the formation of combined authorities with directly elected mayors and with it devolution of certain local services. This was a crucial part of George Osborne’s ‘Northern Powerhouse’ vision and plans were quickly made in forming many combined authorities in Northern England for example, Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region and Sheffield City Region. The North was given a lot of love by Osbourne during the 2015 campaign, but alas nothing on the West Midlands. Almost as if the region itself doesn’t exist, leaving many residents worried about the plan for them. Was the area going to become a commuter hub for London? Something not too far fetched with the only recent large-scale project announced being HS2.

Birmingham, the Uk’s second largest city forgotten by Osborne

Home to over 2 million people and with 90% of residents relying on the area for work. The region is in desperate need for its own devolution plan to drive growth and tackle many of the issues in the area. For example, youth unemployment well over 20% in Birmingham and Wolverhampton and fewer people able to get on the property ladder.

But luckily we can take a sigh of relief of sorts, after much arguing between local authorities we finally have our own devolution plan and a new West Midlands Combined Authority with an elected mayor coming in 2017. But what is the plan and how might things change? Overall you won’t see much change, you’ll pay your Council Tax to the same people, the same bin men will come every week and you will still elect representatives to your local council.

Former MP for Birmingham Erdington, Siôn Simon(Lab)
is the first man to put his name forward for mayor

But there will be changes in certain areas, most notably transport. Firstly, the Mayor will have the ability to award Bus franchises, with the aim to allow better integration across the region and the wider roll out of smart ticketing. In addition, the area has already seen Rail devolution with a new body formed called West Midlands Rail. Which has been working with the DfT to outline the required service for the next West Midlands Franchise coming in 2017. The Briefing document boasts huge increases in capacity, reinstatement of old lines and modernisation of services with Wi-Fi on all services by 2019 and £5 Million investment to improve stations.

Massive improvements asked of new rail Franchisee including
a 30% increase in peak time capacity 

Another key area we will see changes is housing. The authority will be granted compulsory purchase powers, a £500 million housing investment fund and a new land commission to investigate ways of making new land available for building. All of these powers are granted with the objective of driving new house building in the region.

Finally, Education will also see some changes. The authority will be responsible for delivering an Employment and skills strategy throughout the area, working with businesses and government to identify skill gaps and to plan how to tackle these gaps. Also the authority gains local control of adult skills education, giving  the power to invest in the skills needed within the region. Furthermore, alongside the government, the authority will undertake a review into 16+ education to provide recommendations on how to improve the service received by our students.

So it would seem a great deal of power has been given to our new Mayor and Combined authority, even more than I have mentioned (Click here to read the full plan). Hopefully, the plan will bring prosperity and improvements across the region and get more people interested in local politics.

 

The Advance Politics’ Olympics

The last two weeks has been an exciting time for sport, in particular, Team GB with their record-breaking medal haul in Rio. But the Olympic fun isn’t all over because there is a new Olympic Games in town. The Advance Politics’ Olympics, here’s a rundown of the action so far.

The Labour Party Boxing event is about to head into its sixth round although feels like the tenth. The champion Jeremy ‘Mandate’ Corbyn is being challenged by Owen ‘Electable’ Smith. Both have been throwing strong punches but with little accuracy, with every punch going straight in the face of the party itself. Owen boasts a strong team behind him with both Sadiq Kahn, Kezia Dugdale and 172 MP’s and MEP’s. Sadiq quickly whispers Jeremy’s weaknesses to Owen, a right hook of antisemitism allegations and an uppercut of EU referendum failure. Jeremy has no one in his corner to talk through strategy, but the crowd is full of his adoring fans cheering his name. Tom Watson, who’s manning the doors, becomes increasingly worried many have confused the event with a TUSC meeting next door. Meanwhile, with the bout clearly going to the judge’s verdict, ratings have plummeted with the majority of the general public preferring ‘Come Dine with Me’. All the while no one has noticed the beaten up referee lying on the floor knocked out after taking 5 rounds worth of stray punches, we wonder if they will ever recover.

Elsewhere at a small athletics track in Berkshire, Theresa May is running in the Brexit 100m Sprint. However, somebody forgot to tell Mrs May this was, in fact, a sprint. instead, she believes it is actually a walking race, leaving her Team pretty red-faced after she suggested she was the fittest athlete to be selected, announcing ‘Brexit means Brexit’ before the Race. EU leaders and 52% of the public wait at the finish line getting increasingly frustrated at her lack of progress down the track, while the other 48% sit at home taking a sigh of relief or enquiring about emigrating to New Zealand.

Other events include the UKIP Judo tournament, which like the actual sport is impossible to understand and to make things worse the top contender was late, leaving the tournament full of amateurs. And finally, The Southern Rail javelin competition where the RMT, looking a few years past its prime tries to show they still have it, but instead hit a crowd of unsuspecting commuters and blames its fellow competitor.

Brexit: A disaster for our universities and students

The UK boasts some of the best learning and research institutions in the world. Leading the way in a variety of disciplines and developing key technologies for the modern world. Everything from Graphene and MRI to the Internet and the Computing architecture 98% of our mobile phones use came out of the UK. Research and the development of new professionals for our industries is vital to our economy and advancement.

Andre Geim and Kostya Novoselov  discovered the new material Graphene
 whilst working at the University of Manchester

But Brexit has caused a huge headache for our Institutions for many reasons. Firstly, co-operation with other institutions around the world is clearly vital for continued prosperity and leaving the EU may a hinder the possibility of involvement of future European research projects with concerns already being raised. In addition, ERA funding currently provides 11% of the research income to Russell Group universities, if the access to this funding changes under our renegotiation this could increase the funding gap many of our universities are already struggling with and may increase pressures for further rises in the tuition fee cap.

Research funding is not the only income that will suffer. Currently all EU nationals are eligible for ‘Home Fees’ when studying in the UK, this has attracted some of Europe’s brightest to our universities with over 125,000 EU nationals studying in the UK if fees and it is predicted these students contribute £3.7Bn into the British Economy supporting 34,250 jobs. This also ignores the EU nationals that continue to live in the UK after their studies and help make further advances in research. If we don’t continue to support EU students wanting to study in the UK we may find less come to study here again reducing income if this gap isn’t filled by our own students.

Russel Group universities, our leading research institutions may struggle
 to receive funding sufficient funding for projects

But less about the universities themselves, let’s talk about the students. Leaving the EU could be detrimental to the opportunities available to us. Firstly, it may hinder our chances of studying in Europe if we are required to pay Non-EU rates. Also many of my university colleagues have had the opportunity to undertake paid industrial placements in Europe, a great life experience. But If the ability for Britons to work in the EU changes this could affect the opportunity for us to have this experience. In addition, The Erasmus programme currently offers scholarships enabling EU students to travel abroad to study for a year, if these links are broken between our institutions It would be very difficult for our students to undertake a year abroad especially without the Erasmus grant.

Overall the UK needs to be careful on how it implements Brexit to avoid huge issues for such an important industry in our country. We have already seen some work with Philip Hammond announcing plans to continue funding for EU backed research projects but so much more work will be needed to done in the years to come to keep the bonds between our universities and the EU together and protect the quality of education we enjoy.

We need a strong stance on mental health

 

Mental health has been a topic very close to my heart for a very long time, with mental health affecting myself and many people around me. Over my time working in student radio I had the opportunity to produce a radio show for Mental Health Awareness Week. Something I’ve found especially in the student environment is that social attitudes towards Mental Health are very positive and the work of charitable organisations and volunteers is phenomenal in helping people in need. But these Charities should just be a small helping hand in a developed country like ours, we should expect a strong national service dedicated to mental health. However, something I also found during my research is how the standards of treatment for people with Mental illnesses has not been improving and in some cases is failing horribly.

During her inaugural speech in front of Number 10 Theresa May highlighted ‘If you suffer from mental health problems, there’s not enough help to hand.’ And I completely agree Mrs May we see ourselves in a position where up to four in five children are denied access to treatment in England. Where we have the highest self-harm rate in Europe and has been shown to be rising in young people. Where the amount of people seeking help is rising but funding for mental health trusts is falling. Where the number of psychiatric nurses has fell by 1.4% between 2010/11 and 2014/15. And where we have seen the quality of service drop between 2014 and 2015.

This isn’t a new problem, realising the faults in mental health services the coalition government announced their ‘No health without mental health.’ Strategy in 2011. Which promised to to improve experience, deliver a decrease in people resorting to self-harm and a decrease in those suffering mental health problems all together. However, it is clear to see this strategy was nothing but hot air and the most shocking thing I’ve found is that much of the failings have hit our children hardest. These are the ones in our society most vulnerable and most in need of treatment to help prevent problems re-occurring in later life, and we are letting them down.

So what are you going to do about it Theresa? Your party has sat in government for 6 years overseeing a mental health crisis unfold in front of you for little or no action but decreasing budgets. Even recent recommendations by the NHS to commit £1bn to services by 2020/21 although welcomed has been concluded as not enough, with 90% of Trusts believing there needs to be more investment.

We need to see a strong powerful initiative on Mental health, a true Mental Health Service, not a bare bones service propped up by the police, GP’s and charities. A dedicated organisation with it’s own resources, budget and objectives so it is truly taken seriously as a public service and can be held to account like any other.

There Is No Shame In Standing Down Jeremy

First off a big welcome to Advance Politics. We are a new Political blog focusing on everything to do with British politics, watch this space for regularly updated opinion and commentary on all the latest developments in our quickly changing political world. Feel free to comment and get involved with the discussion and don’t hesitate to contact us if you would like to contribute.

Labour MP for Islington North Jeremy Corbyn

Less than a year ago Jeremy Corbyn shook the British political elite by becoming the leader of the labour party gaining almost 60% with a promise of honest straight talking politics. However, his first year has not been easy and has faced a huge amount of criticism from the more centre leaning PLP and the media from his opposition to airstrikes in Syria to an unconvincing result in this year’s local elections. But last week may have been the final straw when it comes to his leadership with the political elite being shaken again by the EU Referendum result.

In October of last year, I appreciated the breath of fresh air Corbyn brought to the party and the willingness to take a step away from a Blair/Brown era which had now become a stain on the party. I then joined the party hoping to support this new style which would hopefully reignite the image of the party among the disenfranchised working class. And I have followed the party closely since.

However this resurgence has not been seen in his first year at the helm and he has proven time and time again he cannot keep the peace or deliver any real direction in the party. This was shown during the referendum with much of the electorate not being aware of Labour’s stance even with hard work at a grassroots level and much of the working class north siding with the party which is here to represent them. Also in the local elections we see a changing landscape where labour has a battle on two fronts with the Tories in swing seats but now UKIP in the safe Labour north.

Corbyn may have brought a new type of politics back into the labour party but the same old convictions and criticisms held, with many in the public still seeing the party as irresponsible on the economy, this was magnified by the appointment of his long-term ally John McDonnell who has done nothing to tackle this stigma on the party and also seems to enjoy bringing Mao’s Red Book into the Commons all while not really making his voice heard when it comes to policy either.

That said I do not believe it is right to assert someone of similar politics to Corbyn Is unelectable. I believe there is a place for a more left-leaning labour party in the UK which would be electable, with decent public support for the nationalisation of industries like rail and electricity for example. However, it is clear Corbyn has not only lost the support of his MP’s with mass resignations of key positions and 2 reshuffles in his first year, but support among the membership is also decreasing as a YouGov poll this week found, so even the Jewel in Corbyn’s crown is shining a little less bright.

With all taken into account, I believe the landscape we see ourselves in especially after the referendum result and David Cameron’s Resignation has changed significantly from last year and as a result, we need to review our leadership to give the best possible opposition. Especially with the possibility of an early election, it is important the public does not see the Labour Party as a fractured or even a broken party. Jeremy I applaud the fresh honest approach you have given and the effective opposition to some of the government’s most cruel policies. But you have to admit defeat and understand you have lost support from your party and not gained the required public support we would expect from an opposition leader. We don’t want you to be remembered as the man who split the Labour Party.