Can we learn from the German example of civic engagement to strengthen our democracy?
By Sam Tomlin
While politicos clamour over the winners and losers of #Vote2014 in the national and local elections, it is clear in my mind that far from UKIP, Labour or Conservatives coming out on top, once again the winner was apathy. 65 per cent of the electorate did not vote on Thursday in local elections; as Jon Snow said, that is the real earthquake.
Using my borough in London as an example (for local elections), it is also clear that the areas of higher socio-economic deprivation had significantly lower turnout (in the lower 30s per cent, compared to pushing 50 per cent in the richer areas), strongly suggesting that it is people in poorer areas who feel more disenfranchised with what they are being offered by the political system as a whole.
The figures were not much better for the European elections with 64 per cent not voting. Not quite as bad as 76 per cent in 1999, but up again from 61 per cent in 2004. Not particularly inspiring reading. Read More
By Sam Tomlin
“One more dollar.” – The answer John D. Rockerfeller reportedly gave to the question ‘How much is enough?’
The latest Rich List came out the other day with news that the number of Billionaires had surpassed 100 for the first time. According to Martin Vander Weyer of the right-leaning Spectator, this should be celebrated. The main thrust of the argument is that it is ‘not about money, it’s about success’: the younger generation, who may have the audacity to believe that they are ‘starting out at a massive debt-laden disadvantage compared to their parents, who have wrecked the economy while accumulating lavish entitlements that their offspring will have to fund’, should be inspired to ‘achieve’ like those who have climbed the fiscal cliff that is the Rich List. Read More
By Sam Tomlin
I have always squirmed when hearing talk of a ‘Christian country’, and it was no exception when David Cameron wheeled the concept out once again the other day. There is a lot of conjecture around why he did it, including potentially to placate the majority of evangelicals after legalising same sex marriage, but I wanted to use this short article to outline some of the reasons Christians like myself are very uneasy and even outright critical of attempts to align our faith with our nation. While this issue is perhaps more pronounced in the USA, there are important political and (Christian) theo-political reasons we should avoid talk of Britain as a ‘Christian nation:
1) It is questionable whether a human-made entity such as a nation can be described in such anthropomorphic terminology. Being a ‘Christian’ implies having some form of relationship with God. While it is possible for a nation to have Christians in it I question whether a nation can be Christian itself, especially when a large minority (41% at the last census) do not associate themselves with Christianity.
2) Some argue that clearly we’re a Christian nation because we have holidays around Christian festivals and we have a monarch who is the head of a church. I would suggest the ‘Christian’ element within these has essentially been watered down so much they have become what many call ‘culturally Christian’, which I’d argue is a pale imitation of Christianity. Read More
By Sam Tomlin
Education is one of the most hotly debated topics in British politics. The Education Secretary Michael Gove is one of the highest profile government ministers and most people will be aware of debates around ‘academies’, ‘free schools’ and tuition fees even if they do not know the specific details. Of course this is understandable as education is vital for any society to function properly – everyone has been through it and almost everyone knows people still in it.
There is one area of education, however, which has consistently failed to generate any kind of sustained popular or mainstream political debate and that is vocational education.
As it says on the tin, it is essentially education which prepares people (of all ages, but traditionally younger people) for a vocation – something that they specialise in. The system, involving various types of college, university and apprenticeship courses, is not simple to understand, but still plays a vital role in educating millions of people today (in 2011 it was estimated there were around 1.8million 16-18 year olds studying for vocational qualifications). Read More
By Sam Tomlin
David Cameron, we were told in a 2011 parliament publication, ‘has placed the Big Society project at the centre of his political agenda’. The vision was bold, if a little fuzzy in practical application: ‘the term describes the Government’s intention to open up public services to new providers, increase social action and devolve power to local communities.’
So fuzzy in practical application that the same report, just a year or so after the concept was introduced, suggested ‘There is little clear understanding of the Big Society project among the public, and there is confusion over the Government’s proposals to reform public services.’
If that was the truth in 2011, it is certainly the case today. The battle has now all but been lost as the coalition enters its final stages. The term (‘BS’ as many have renamed it) mostly evokes ridicule around the country and in various opinion outlets. Read More
By Jenni Tomlin and Sam Tomlin
The recent debate on changes to social security has been and still is one of the fiercest in this generation of British politics. In many ways it has played out as a classic left v right ideological scrap, but has also prompted nuanced and wide ranging debate with the complexities of the deficit, infrastructure, unemployment and even Europe. It is not our primary intention in this article to rehash these debates, but to provide first-hand experience of events which have implications for two elements of one significant area of the debate: housing benefit.
£712-a-month worth of living space
The first concerns a good friend of ours who lived a few doors down from us until he moved out in the past week. He has been on incapacity benefit for a number of years and had lived in his (generously termed) ‘flat’ for about four of those. This ‘flat’ (see picture left) is in many ways a product of the housing boom and Thatcher’s right to buy scheme which allowed individuals to buy their own homes. The Victorian estate we live on used to be entirely council owned until right to buy; now, owner occupiers such as us are in the minority with most owners climbing the social ladder and moving to the suburbs, then selling on to rather more unscrupulous and opportunistic landlords.
By Sam Tomlin
This article is the second in a mini SJF series: ‘Football and society, then and now’. See here for the first article in the series.
English football is about as ‘modern’ as you can get. The brand of the Premier League is known world-wide with boys and girls all over the poorest parts of Africa, Asia and South America wearing replica shirts with Rooney, Lampard and Tevez emblazoned on the back.
But football was not always this way. In many ways a microcosm of wider societal change, subject to the introduction of neoliberal thought in the Thatcher/Reagan experiment, major changes occurred in the 1980s. Many of these changes were positive: tackling the hooligan culture that had emerged was vital (although this was clearly not the fault behind the Hillsborough tragedy, as some have claimed), re-branding the game to make it more family-friendly and the insertion of some more private investment. I remember my Dad telling me going to games in the late 70s was often like going to a football fight hoping that a game might break out. Read More