Tuesday, 12 April 2016

How can political participation be increased?


Recently, on the 15th and 16th of March another student and I were fortunate to attend the Dicey Conference at Trinty college, Oxford, which is run by The McWhirter Foundation. The title of the conference was: ‘Is British Democracy Ripe for Reform?’

We had the opportunity to listen to four different people who looked at different aspects of British democracy but the speaker I am going to focus on is Areaq Chowdhury who is the founder of WebRoots. In his lecture he focused on political participation, examples of where it has improved, how it is changing, examples of where it is low and possible changes that can be made to increase participation.

Firstly, political participation can include a whole range of things from standing for public office to merely voting. It also includes joining pressure groups, picking candidates, voicing your demands by contacting your local MP, writing for newspapers and commenting on articles.

This is where the internet has made such a massive impact on political participation. Social media websites such as Twitter has meant that many people who would have struggled to get their views heard before can contribute to online discussions and these websites also make it easier to start online campaigns. 38 Degrees is an example of this where members come together to promote certain campaigns and make a difference. The government also has a website through which you can petition Parliament. After 10,000 signatures petitions get a response from the government and after 100,000 signatures petitions are considered for debate in Parliament. Some people argue that this is evidence that political participation has not decreased and is merely changing.

Others, however, point to recent elections which show that political participation in the form of voting is still a major issue in UK politics. The main reason that this is such an issue is because if elected officials are not voted into office with a high voter turnout then their mandate to govern is brought into question. Recent police commissioner elections have seen some of the worst voter turnouts. In Gwent (2012) the turnout was just 14.3 per cent overall and one polling station in Newport was visited by no voters at all. Areaq Chowdhury also talked about the 2010 Conservative Liberal Democrat coalition and the questions surrounding its legitimacy and mandate. No one voted for the joint rule of these two parties and so they lacked a mandate.

One way that some people suggest voter turnout may be increased is through the increased use of referendums. This form of direct democracy allows people to have a real impact on the eventual decisions and the argument is that people will therefore be more likely to vote unlike in general elections where they are only picking representatives. However, some referendums have received shockingly low turnouts. For example, the 2011 AV referendum vote received a voter turnout of just 42.2 per cent. This is opposed to the 84.6 per cent voter turnout at the Scottish independence referendum. This shows us that the extent to which people engage with referendums relies heavily on the issue.

Other ideas which have been suggested which could possibly increase political participation include lowering the voting age to 16. People argue that this, combined with increased education, would result in higher turnouts because young people would feel as though they have been given more responsibility as well as being more engaged in issues that they understand. Also, online voting for elections and minor referendums to explain to MPs how to vote in certain situations have also been proposed. Although there are security fears concerning the former and the influence of party whips on important and polarising issues would affect the latter.

I would like to thank The McWhirter Foundation and all of the speakers for their time and if you would like to hear more about political participation you can visit Araeq Chowdhury’s HuffintonPost page here: http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/areeq-chowdhury/
ED & ES

Monday, 4 April 2016

Watergate


I have always wondered why scandals are named using the suffix ‘-gate’ – think ‘Plebgate’, ‘Hackgate’ or ‘Bloodgate’. It turns out that the reason stems from Watergate – a scandal that changed American politics and the public’s faith in the president forever.

In May 1972, five men connected with Nixon’s re-election campaign broke into the Democratic National Committee Office in the Watergate building and attempted to tap phones and steal top-secret documents. They were guided by two men from Nixon’s White House in the building opposite by walkie-talkies. The wiretaps failed and so they returned on the 17th June when they were arrested. It was not clear that they were connected to the re-election campaign.

A spokesman for the White House, when asked about the event a few days later, said that he would not comment on ‘a third-rate burglary’. Two reporters, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward began to investigate the crime. They, on the other hand, thought that this was ‘a professional type operation’ as the burglars wore surgical gloves and carried thousands of dollars in cash. Now, they are given much credit for exposing the President’s involvement.

At first, Nixon went to great lengths to attempt to cover up the crime: he tried to persuade the CIA to stop the FBI from investigating, evidence was destroyed, staff members who refused to cooperate were fired and it was arranged that the burglars would be given hundreds of thousands of dollars to keep quiet. In August of that year, Nixon gave a speech in which he claimed that he nor his staff were at all involved with the break-in, but FBI agents discovered in October that the break-in was linked to Nixon’s re-election campaign. $25,000 for the campaign was found in the bank account of one of the burglars. However, he was re-elected as President that November taking more than 60% of the vote.

Hearings surrounding the case began in 1973. Alexander Butterfield, former appointments secretary to the President, testified that Nixon had secretly taped every conversation that took place in the Oval Office since 1971. Prosecutors were determined to get hold of the tapes as they would provide solid evidence to prove Nixon’s guilt. Archibald Cox, the assigned special prosecutor for this case, was fired by Nixon when he refused to stop demanding the tapes. Several Justice Department officials resigned in protest at this decision on the 20th October 1973. This later became known as the Saturday Night Massacre. Eventually, Nixon agreed to hand over written summaries of the tapes, but the White House couldn’t explain why there was an 18 and a half minute gap in one of them.

During a speech the following month, Nixon says: ‘I’m not a crook,’ maintaining his innocence. Amid calls for impeachment, he insisted that he would stay in office, despite increasing unpopularity. He asserted that he had made mistakes but broken no laws and would not release the tapes, as they could harm some of his senior staff members. He also claimed that he had not known of the burglary or the cover-up until early 1973.
On March 1st 1974, seven of Nixon’s former aides were accused of charges related to the Watergate break-in. Nixon was called an ‘unindicted co-conspirator’ by the jury as they were unsure as to whether they were able to accuse the current president.

The Supreme Court ordered Nixon to hand over the original copies of the tapes in July 1974, despite his pleas for presidential privilege. Meanwhile, the House of Representatives voted to impeach him for obstruction of justice, abuse of power, criminal cover-up and several violations of the constitution. The tapes were released on August 5th, proving without a doubt his complicity in the Watergate crimes. One conversation especially, from June 23rd 1972, showed that Nixon had played a leading role in the cover-up. Facing certain impeachment from the Senate, Nixon resigned on August 8th, becoming the first US president ever to do so.

Nixon’s resignation was only right and really came too late. This scandal led to further distrust of the government at a time when they were already divisive due to the Vietnam War. Had he admitted his crimes straight away rather than devising elaborate plans to cover them up, then the whole political system would not have been tainted with him. Greater openness and honesty was subsequently demanded of American politics by the people and this was met by several reforms.

AE

Friday, 11 March 2016

Suicide of a 10-year girl old In Australia

On Sunday the 6th of March, a day where we here in the UK celebrated the lives of our mothers, the worlds of many were turned upside down when a 10-year-old Aboriginal girl took her own life in far north Western Australia, the youngest of 19 natives to kill themselves in remote areas of the state since December.



Now let’s pause for a moment because I am sure that you’re all as shocked as I am. I don’t know about you, but my only memories from the age of 10 were those of happiness and excitement over what my future holds. It is absolutely heartbreaking to even try to imagine that a child of such a young age was experiencing so many traumas daily that she lost the will to live and the only way she could see out of her troubles was to take her own life.

What makes this story increasingly gut wrenching is that this tragedy took place because this young life was a victim of domestic violence. The girl was in informal care with her aunt and uncle along with her brother and just last year, her teenage sister had also taken her own life due to the domestic violence they faced.

How much heartbreak can one take?

Mental Health and Child Protection Minister Helen Morton said it was “absolutely tragic” to think that a young child could even consider taking their own life. She said that the young girl had experienced “accumulated trauma and harm” over 10 years and in hindsight more could have been done for her which only makes me question ‘So why was nothing done?’





Domestic violence is serious and destructive. It ruins lives, breaks up families and has such a lasting impact. It is criminal. It has been
around for a very long time, too long in fact and quite simply, something must be done…

http://www.embassyenglish.com/-/media/Embassy/Images/Countries/australia_map.pngSoon!



Deborah Owusu 12.5
 






By Deborah Owusu 12.5
 

What do YOU think?

Thursday, 3 March 2016

Super Tuesday


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The 1st of March this year was Super Tuesday, a huge event in the American election calendar. Firstly, Super Tuesday is the day when the most states in America vote for who they want their presidential candidate to be. This was for both the Democrats and the Republicans.

This year the candidates have been hitting the headlines, both nationally and internationally, for their comments and the race they have lead. On the Democrat side is Hillary Clinton, former secretary of state and Bernie Sanders, Senator of Vermont. These two very different candidates have become increasingly popular and have very loyal supporters. Perhaps more well-known is the Republican frontrunners, Donald Trump, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio. Each of them are not the traditional type of candidates we are used to seeing and has led to several concerns from the Republican establishment. Donald Trump has become a regular on the news recently with the businessman making very controversial comments. Ted Cruz could be seen as a more proven outsider than Trump and he is very popular with the tea party members of the GOP. Finally, Marco Rubio is the more establishment candidate and is more popular amongst the well-educated and women.

Super Tuesday had primaries and caucuses in over 11 states with a variety of results. Both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump won 7 states, which may lead to both campaigns gaining momentum as we move forward to more primaries on Saturday and Sunday. Ted Cruz managed to win 3 states, his home state of Texas alongside Oklahoma and Alaska. Rubio won his first state of the presidential campaign taking Minnesota, whilst Sanders took 4 states including his home state of Vermont.

So what does this all really mean? The candidate that has the most votes in a state is declared the victor. Depending on the type of voting system in each state, delegates are awarded to the candidates. All the candidates aim for the most number of delegates and each win adds to this. This is also why second place is important as well as the winner. State wins are vital in order to gain momentum and from there gain as many delegates as possible, a larger win can also lead to a candidate receiving a larger proportion of the delegates as well.

Many people may be asking why Super Tuesday is so vital in the presidential campaign. Super Tuesday is the first multi-state voting day and so by gaining many delegates it leads to more publicity and hopefully more popularity for the later states. With Clinton and Trump coming out on top it is looking more and more likely that these two will win the nomination for their respective party. In the summer Trump was seen as an outside candidate but now it seems quite the opposite, this is causing great concern to many people given his policies and proposals.

What has come out of the primaries has been the characteristics of voters who vote for Trump. Trump seems to be gaining popularity with the evangelicals as well as those with low income and those who are under educated. The majority of men tend to favour Trump whilst Rubio has greater support from women. What Trump has grasped this year has been the anger and disenchantment with the establishment. Being the clear outsider in the eyes of the electorate they see Trump as the candidate who will bring about the change which is needed and clearly speaks his mind. However, when it comes to the candidate who shares the same values as the electorate, Rubio seems to come out on top. The difference between the grassroots and the elites in the Republican Party is huge and Trump has focused on this and been very successful.

From these results many have forecast what the next weeks will bring and from there the winners of the nominations. Having looked at the delegate counts and the states to come it seems as though the democrats will have a tighter race than the republicans. I believe that Hillary will ultimately win the nomination as her lead of super delegates is so large that Bernie Sanders would have to win the majority of the other states in order to be the nominee for the democrats. On the other side it appears as though Donald Trump is winning across a wide range of states and social groups. This makes his future victories quite unpredictable. It is clear that he is not undefeatable as Cruz has managed to win states on several occasions. However, if Trump continues as he has done in the past month I cannot see him not becoming the presidential candidate for the Republican Party.

SB

US Caucuses: So What's Bernie's deal?




With American caucuses on the way, the public is undoubtedly curious of the candidates' pasts. Many claims have been made by the candidates about their history and life altering events, a lot of which, unsurprisingly, have been proven to be false.

Bernie Sanders, a candidate for the Democratic Party - who instead identifies as being a democratic socialist - made claims about protesting for civil rights in 1963. Sanders spoke of his increasing political involvement during his time at the University of Chicago, where he studied Political Science. He focused, particularly, on his involvement in Congress on Racial Equality (CORE), through which he protested segregated housing in his university.
Sanders' involvement in the Willis wagons(racially segregated housing) protest, and in the civil rights movement itself, has much been debated since then.

Bernie Sanders Arrested in 1963However, in late February, Kartemquin Films released video footage online, depicting two police officers roughly handling a young man resembling Sanders, particularly due to the strikingly similar thick-rimmed glasses. (shown on the left - 1963, Chicago Tribune).

Understandably, some claimed that the picture was ambiguous, despite Sanders confirming that the young man was indeed him. In response, Mother Jone magazine released an article about Sanders' past, including the newspaper clipping below, confirming that Sanders was arrested during the protest mentioned. It also states that he was later fined $25 for resisting arrest, as displayed in the photograph above.

Bernie Sanders arrested at 74th and Lowe
In his campaign, Sanders brings focus onto injustices in the US, particularly focusing on a recent social movement 'Black Lives Matter'. This was sparked by the acquittal of a racially motivated murderer, George Zimmerman, and two other racially motivated murders, which occurred as a result of police brutality. Sanders continued to mention, 'as far back as I can remember, and I can't tell you why...but, injustice is something I've always fought throughout my life.'

As a politics student who is upset about these issues, it is greatly comforting to hear a democratic candidate, who has a chance of becoming US president, recognise one of the many big problems in America, regarding race. Not only this, but Sanders has been much more independent, especially with donations for his campaign, unlike his democratic counterpart, Hillary Clinton.

If we look at some claims Clinton has made about her past, such as 'landing under sniper fire' in Bosnia, for which she 'ran with (her) head down' to get to a safe base, some queries have been made in response to this serious event. This is mainly due to the fact that those accompanying Clinton that day described it as being routine, and video evidence disproving her statements was released. In this clip, she was greeted by a group of people, including a young girl, who read her a poem and then kissed her.

Much to the great shock of those questioning Clinton, she later retracted her words, regarding them as a mere misstatement. Clinton then said, 'So I made a mistake. That happens. It shows I'm human.' I completely see where Clinton is coming from, just the other day I mistook a group of primary school children for an assassination squad shooting down at the public. It's an easy mistake to make.

However, despite all of this, it pleases me to see that no one has had any doubts whatsoever about Mr. Trump's 'small loan of million dollars' claim.

SN