Month: September 2011

The Labour Party Hold Their Annual Party Conference

Miliband vs. Miliband

It will be interesting to see what is said by speakers at this year’s Labour Conference. While it is always easier to be in opposition, Labour doesn’t seem to be capitalising on this enough. What Ed has dubbed the Coalition’s “addiction to austerity” – i.e. the Coalitions brutal assault on a number of state services – hasn’t pushed up polls as much as many predicted it would do.

When the election does come round, call me naive, but I think that the people who give a political party victory are those that just genuinely ‘like’ a candidate. Like you ‘like’ the guy at work who is funny, never fucks you around and doesn’t talk about you behind your back. Of course there are other factors, but Labour faces a huge struggle now that Ed has the reins and not his brother.

Ed Miliband talks to the public outside the Labour Party Conference

Ed Miliband talks to the public outside the Labour Party Conference

I don’t dislike Ed at all – in fact I think he’s beginning to improve his ability to deal with the media and present himself as a viable Prime Minister. His commitment to his beliefs and his passion to refound the Labour Party is clearly evident in the more recent interviews he has done, most recently with Andrew Marr.

His ability to remain calm while articulating his views with wide, listening eyes is impressive – a quality both the Miliband brothers have. Rumours are circulating that Ed is having media training. This is probably a wise idea.

Watching his brother David on Question Time with anti-war campaigner Tariq Ramadan; the pro-Iraq War hawk Richard Perle; Defence Secretary Liam Fox (who recently said to a defence magazine that he wants to run the MoD “like a business”) and playwright and critic Bonnie Greer made me realise that if David had won the leadership contest a year ago, things would be different for the Labour Party. Although I don’t idolise Tony Blair or the decisions he made as Prime Minister, at times his communication skills were captivating. Although David was under less pressure on the Question Time panel due to being largely absent from frontline politics, you could see his intellectual eloquence radiating when discussing the invasion of Iraq. It is telling that a poll from the Mail on Sunday reports that four times more people think David rather than Ed should have won the leadership – and according to the Sun, just 5% of people view Ed as a “natural leader”.

 

It’s not just about how photogenic a Prime Minister is, though. Ed has made it very clear that he has values and does not try to hide them, and that he believes politics is changing in a profound way. Not being ‘Prime Ministerial’ enough is a criticism some have made of the opposition leader. I think it could do him some favours, to be honest. The pictures of him walking into Lime Street Liverpool Station with his kids on his shoulders might make a small change in the overall public perception of him as a person, not just as a potential Prime Minister. After all, he isn’t a Prime Minister (yet) and the general election is several years away. Connecting with the public is one of the keys to the ‘refounding’ of Labour – all the talk of engaging with communities depends on how a leader can listen to them, but at the same time present themselves in the right way. It’s difficult, but it can be done. A suit taking a brief walk round a poor suburb of London isn’t always attractive, particularly if they are a member of government. Breaking away from the established method of political public relations is drastic, but it will be interesting to see whether or not his relaxed attitude to his role as the leader of the Labour Party works.

David Cameron - the Condom Head

David Cameron – the Condom Head

This week’s Labour Conference will confirm whether or not Ed is a viable leader for his party. Policies come from the party machine itself, but he is the messenger and the figurehead until he enters government and becomes one of the most powerful men in the country.

Let’s hope that he can prove to his party that winning the next election is a race they can win.

Olsoweir

Creationism - would you have your child taught it?

A walk across the pond water

I’ve never been to the States, but I really want to go. The place absolutely fascinates me. The reason it fascinates me is because it’s so similar to the UK, but yet so different in a number of key areas. These differences make the US all the more interesting. When you see another human walking along the street that is blind or has an extra finger, you take more notice of them than you would a cat or a dog walking down the same street. This may seem obvious, but in situations like this differences are many times more pronounced when things are the same, but not quite.

Let me be clear that I’m no academic, and I’m certainly not an expert on American culture. But from reading about America during my time studying politics at university and reading about it afterwards, there is one really interesting difference between America and the UK: the prominence and application of Christianity in the public sphere.

I don’t believe religion is a bad thing. On the contrary, I think that it can have a positive influence on people. Sometimes it provides people with hope and a place to turn to when everyone else turns away. However, it can pit huge numbers of people against each other and result in a huge loss of life. The most obvious example of this antipathy is that between Muslims and Christians – felt acutely in New York 10 years ago
this Sunday.

Most interesting for me as someone who is interested in politics is the penetration of religion in US government. The Republicans is full to the brim of individuals who are staunchly anti-abortion, anti-homosexuality, pro-interventionist and sympathetic to creationism.

One of the most comical figures in the Republican Party is Michele Bachmann. During her campaign tour in August, she shared her belief that the earthquake in Virginia and Hurricane Irene were ‘punishments’ from God because American government is ‘too big’. Wow. This is disgustingly funny. Imagine how difficult it would have been for Diane Abbott MP to say that on the campaign trail in Stoke Newington and remain a member of the Labour Party. Bachmann certainly cemented her reputation as a laughing stock, and her PR quickly released a statement saying she had not meant what she had said on that morning in Florida.

Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favourite

Michele Bachmann, a Tea Party favourite and the rest of the world’s nightmare presidential candidate

There are, however, (slightly) more sensible candidates. The current leader in the leadership contest for the Republicans presidential nominee is in full swing, and there is an arguable frontrunner: Governor of Texas Rick Perry, who has been praised for allegedly bucking the trend of low growth in his State. Even though there is still widespread poverty and unemployment among those in the working class, Mr Perry says he can ‘do what he did for Texas for America’. Let’s not go into that though.

Perry is a self-declared ‘man of faith’ and a Methodist – he regularly attends a very large evangelical church in Austin. Recently, he got into trouble over a ‘prayer event’ he organised – a watchdog group called The Freedom from Religion Foundation filed a legal complaint against him, highlighting the fact that his involvement as a member of the government is wrong and shouldn’t be allowed:

They are “nonbelievers who support the free exercise of religion, but strongly oppose the governmental establishment and endorsement of religion, including prayer and fasting, which are not only an ineffectual use of time and government resources, but which can be harmful or counterproductive as a substitute for reasoned action.”

Sounds like they are pretty level-headed people, then?

One of the most unattractive things about some politicians are their views on evolution. People who choose to ignore scientifically proven theories are, in my opinion, ignorant. Rick Perry seems to be one of these people. In August, he commented on the curriculum taught in Texan schools: “In Texas we teach both creationism and evolution in our public schools, because I figured you’re smart enough to figure out which one is right.” No prizes for guessing which one he believes in.

This pro-religion, anti-science position is rife inside the Republican Party. I fervently believe that teaching a child a specific religion in school is wrong. Even though studies have provided evidence that only 10-20% of teachers in any given state in the US teach creationism, that percentage is too high. Drumming a theory of existence into a child that has almost no scientific evidence to back it up teaches them to blindly believe in things that are wrong. Evolution has been proven as a theory consistently by a number of scientists since the time of Darwin: what is there to argue with? It doesn’t have ‘holes in it’ like Mr Perry argues.

A depiction of God

A depiction of God

Children need to be taught about what has been scientifically proven when they are young. The right to believe in creationism is always reserved, but just as a child cannot be held accountable for a crime committed when they are too young because of the age of consent, they should be left to make up their own choices without being force fed unproven theories of life until they reach that age. Being able to question and pick apart an argument such is a skill that is only picked up fully when a child gets to adolescence.

 

In 1987 the Supreme Court heard the legal case Edwards v. Aguillard, which banned Louisiana State from enforcing the teaching of creationism in their schools. The Court ruled that teaching creationism advanced a specific religion, and that this was unconstitutional. Intelligent design is the new spectre in America – it was invented to get around the ban on creationism.

Believe what you want to believe, but perhaps it’s better to keep your religious beliefs private and out of schools.

Olsoweir