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
More teachers are reporting high levels of stress. Gabe Palmer / Alamy
By Sam Tomlin
This bank holiday weekend has seen delegates at the National Union of Teachers threaten to boycott classroom inspections and call for the resignation of the chief inspector of Ofsted, Sir Michael Wilshaw. Dislike of Wilshaw and the inspectorate is nothing new from many teachers and historically there has often been significant tension between Ofsted and the unions. Discord has been growing, however, since the Coalition came to power amid new measures such as significant reductions in warning before inspections. In Ofsted’s own words:
“Ofsted also announced further reductions to the notice of inspections… Under the new arrangements, schools will receive almost no notice of an inspection with inspectors calling headteachers the afternoon before an inspection takes place. Ofsted proposed conducting school inspections without any notice but listened to headteachers’ concerns about this during the consultation. Calling the working day before an inspection will enable headteachers to make any necessary logistical arrangements including notifying parents and governors of the inspection. Parents can be reassured that inspectors are seeing schools as they really are.”
By Sam Tomlin
Israel’s hasbara efforts (public relations, disseminating information about the country) were dealt another blow last week with the publication of a report from UNICEF on the conditions of Palestinian children in Israeli military detention centres.
Unicef’s report: Children in Israeli Military Detention
In 2009, in response to evidence that children were prosecuted in adult courts, Israel established a juvenile military court, which, according to UNICEF, “is the first and only juvenile military court in operation in the world. In fact, it uses the same facilities and court staff as the adult military court.”
The analysis by UNICEF identified clear examples that amount to, “cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment” of children as young as 12. On a yearly basis, it reports, around 700 12-17 year olds (mostly boys) are arrested, interrogated and detained by Israeli army, police and security agents, often in conditions which it would be difficult not to describe as torture. Read More
By Sam Tomlin
Modern football is a complex beast. The constant acclamation of achievement and triumph at the construction of a world-wide brand, bringing entertainment and happiness to millions (billions?) is commonplace among proponents of the system. While at the same time, others, observing the same phenomenon, cry betrayal and failure for an experiment which has sold its soul for self-importance and corruption. Like any political system it promotes the game of ‘6s’ and ‘9s’ where some will say it’s a ‘6’, others a ‘9’ and some a ‘a badly drawn 8’.
David Conn is an investigative sports journalist. Growing up in Manchester in the 1970’s, like many young boys he fell in love with his local team, Manchester City. Ultimately the book, Richer than God, is about this love affair with his club and coming to terms with the reality that something he felt he had ‘ownership’ of was actually little more than a commodity to be bought or sold. Weaving constantly between joyful (and painful) memories growing up as a child in the Kippax stand in Maine Road, and the modern day acquisition of the club by billionaire Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Conn reaches into the depths of the philosophy not only of football but community, loyalty and belonging. Read More