Monthly Archives: February 2012

Aid – What is it for?

A political issue which has been at the centre of much debate recently is the question of whether or not the UK should give Aid to India.

So what is Aid, and why should it be the focus of so much attention?

Aid is the voluntary transfer of resources from one country to another. This transfer can be made either by the first country giving its resources to the receiving country directly, or the resources can be dispensed through charities. Either way, aid is often given from developed nations, such as the UK to developing countries, in order to try and help these countries build up their economies and provide for their citizens.

A term aid givers often like to identify with, is that they are helping countries to help themselves. This means that are not just providing the necessary resources to solve short term problems. Rather, the resources they provide will have a long term impact, because they will include functions such as education, which will help a country develop.

So why is there so much controversy surrounding the issue of whether or not the UK should give Aid to India?

British people are divided over the issue.

Many see India as a byword for poverty. In a country which is home to a third of the world’s population who live below the World Bank’s Extreme Poverty Line, many Brits find it hard to shake off the image of India as being poor and destitute. India has 600 million people who live on less than 2 dollars a day. It is perhaps easy to see why many believe India is in need of Aid.

However, many in the UK take the opposite view.

Many economic experts predict that within 10 years, the Indian economy will be the 5th largest in the world, overtaking that of Britain, and causing some to suggest that the Aid may even begin to flow in the other direction. The Indian economy is growing at 10 per cent a year, and the country is a donor of Aid itself.

Many in Britain are angry that the government, after making cuts on pensions, education and other public services, is donating $440 a year to India.

Dr Richard Wellings, from the UK Institute of Economic Affairs is one person who strongly opposes Aid to India.

He said:

“It’s crazy really – foreign aid is one of the few areas of the UK budget that’s actually increasing substantially over the next few years. But that money could make a huge difference over the next couple of years if it was spent on tax cuts for low paid workers, or  it could make a huge economic difference if it was spent at home.”

Many in the UK share this view. As India has more billionaires than the UK, there is a widespread view that it is India’s richest citizens who should be helping their poorest ones.

Does it make sense for the UK to keep giving Aid to India? What do YOU think?

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The Mayor of London

Every town has a mayor, but its London’s mayor who receives nationwide attention. Why is this, you might ask? Well, for starters, it’s the capital city. However, the fact it’s playing host to the Olympics this summer means the world is watching. The Mayor of London is, quite simply, an elected politician, who along with the London Assembly (25 members) is accountable for the government of Greater London – that is, makes decisions as to how the city is best run.

(Boris Johnson, left, Ken Livingstone, right)

Conservative Boris Johnson has held the position since May 4th 2008. You might recognise him without even realising; his blonde mop isn’t hard to miss. If you live in London, or have visited, you might also be familiar with the term the ‘Boris Bike’ (the Barclaycard public access bikes you might have seen parked on pavements) which encourage people to cycle. The position was previously held by Ken Livingstone from the creation of the role on May 4th 2000 until succession by Johnson.

With the elections looming again, the time has come again to ask the question – Who is going to be the next London mayor? Boris and Ken last shared a platform on May 2nd 2008, when Boris was elected mayor following Livingstone’s eight year supremacy.

Nearly four years later and it looks like we’ve got another battle between the rivals on the cards. Polls open again tomorrow (Tuesday) and the results will be announced on 3rd May – it all feels terribly familiar.

However, it’s looking like it’s going to be a hard election to call. Recent polling has given the Labour camp hope (N.B. Ken) as the lead Boris had enjoyed since June last year disappeared when a YouGov poll published just over a month ago put Ken narrowly head by two percentage points (51%-49%).

One of the main issues in winning or losing Londoner’s support is that of transport costs. The findings indicated that the former mayor’s (that is, Ken) flagship pledge to cut public transport fares by 7% appealed to Londoners, who were hit by a New Year fare rise.

However, another poll in the Evening Standard last week showed Boris closing the gap to secure a narrow lead again. What is certain, however, is that this race has two main competitors and the pressure is on for both Ken and Boris to avoid any mishaps.

Ken?

or Boris?

Tony Travers, director of the Greater London group at the London School of Economics, says that in such a close-run race, any significant slip by either candidate could determine the outcome.

“Whereas normally the odd gaffe, the odd mistake or wrong statistic cited wouldn’t be a problem in a race that is largely predetermined; in one where it could come down to 200 or 1,000 votes, then any one mistake could be fatal. In this kind of two-horse race, which is very very tight, then the slightest slip-up could make all the difference.”

The Unemployment Issue

The number of people without jobs in the United Kingdom has been a point of constant debate. In the same way you might struggle to find a Saturday job, plenty of adults are finding it hard to find a full-time job.

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 In fact, the unemployment rate (that is, the percentage of people unemployed) has stayed at its highest level since 1995 – 8.4%.

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 Figures were released on Wednesday that show the number of people without work had increased by 48,000. Of course, there is much to be said for a link between this increase and the state of the UK economy, which will have undoubtedly heard about in the news.

 Many of these unemployed people claim benefits, which are commonly referred to as ‘Jobseekers Allowances.’ According to figures, more than 300,00 people have been stuck on this allowance for more than a year. This data also showed that 1.04 million 16-24 year olds were out of work in the three months to December.

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Sam Gyimah: Would benefits be enough? 

The issue of benefits has been heavily discussed in the commons: many feel MPs are unqualified to really understand the problems faced by the unemployed. Today, for example, a BBC Radio 5 journalist hosted a debate with an audience of 200 unemployed people in Salford, who were given the opportunity to air their grievances to the Government. One audience member, rather humorously, challenged one MP to try and live on the £65 allowance for a week. I wonder if he’ll rise to the challenge…http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-17038832

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Tower Block of Commons: http://www.channel4.com/programmes/tower-block-of-commons/episode-guide/series-1/episode-1

Interestingly enough, I just discovered that some politicians have already done it…albeit in the name of a Channel 4 documentary. This programme saw politicians swap their comfortable homes for council estates across the country. Give it a watch – it might have been made a while ago, but the issues are just as relevant today. I know what I’ll be watching tonight…

 

 

NHS Reforms.

 

The NHS Reforms have created an issue at the fore of British politics today. The Health and Social Care Bill is one of the most important pieces of legislation from the coalition government.

It is controversial for several reasons. It gives GPs and other clinicians more control over NHS spending in England. This will encourage greater competition with the private sector. The private sector refers to the section of the economy which is run by private individuals or groups and it is not controlled by the state.

The Labour Party believe that this increasing privatisation would come at the cost of the care of patients. Many MPs opposed the plans last spring, and so the bill was put on hold. Some changes were then made to the Bill, and the revised version passed through the House of Commons.

However, the bill then faced even more opposition, just before Christmas, when it was opposed outright by the royal colleges of nurses and midwives.

Labour are urging for the bill to be dropped altogether, so a series of fresh amendments have been created which aim to tackle the concerns of its critics.

However, it is not just Labour who are calling for the dissolution of the legislation. There are deep divides within the Conservative Party over whether the bill should be passed.

So, what do you think? How important is it that the NHS remains a governmental organisation and service?

What is the point in Politics?

You might have wondered what the point of politics is. Why are so many people eager to state their view? Are all politician’s the same? It might seem obvious, but there are actually some very important reasons for why politics exists as we know it. It has some serious functions that affect you in ways you might not even realise. Here are a few:

 

1. Resolve conflict: Ok, so they might not get involved if you argue with your siblings over who last did the washing up or whose turn it is to watch TV, but the principles are the same. We don’t all agree on everything and the same can be said about society at large. For example, some people might support demolishing an old house to build new flats, whilst others might want to protect the house for its historic value. The two groups, although protesting against each other, are unlikely to have a physical battle because they have access to politicians to press their views and help diplomacy (your parents might play very similar roles in the washing up battle!) Politics helps harmonise battles and provides a peaceful way of airing different points of view.

2. Encourage compromise: As you probably know, we don’t all agree on everything and in all arguments, you are likely to reach a compromise. This means, you might do the washing up, whilst your brother does the drying. Or you might watch 15 minutes of The Simpsons, before letting your sister watch Friends. Imagine this on a larger scale and you’ve cracked it: politics is about compromise for the greater good of the country. People often will accept things happening they might not agree with because they respect the mechanics behind the political process (whether it be its traditions or legality.)

3. Accommodate different interests: Politics is an outlet for different organisations and groups to state their view to encourage support and enact change. For example, your sibling might think the best way to get those pesky dishes clean is to put them in the dishwasher, whereas you might take the proactive approach of washing them up instantly. In a roughly similar fashion, pressure groups are professional bodies which have expertise and policy objectives for a particular area they are interested. For example, the British Medical Association have an interest in how the National Health Service is run. These groups are very important and politics plays a key role in allowing their views expression. They do this through lobbying government ministers for change.

4. Determine who exercises power: In most societies, someone is in charge. Politics is the way people can decide who governs the United Kingdom. Those registered to vote (above 18 years old – not long to go now!) elect around 650 Members of Parliament and the party with the biggest grouping of these MP’s goes on to form the government of the country. The daily interest in political affairs helps shape people’s decisions for future elections.

There we have it, point proven — politics is important.

What about the Queen?

Monarchy is a crucial part of our history. However, the monarch’s role in ruling the country has changed significantly over time.

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The first kings of England came to the throne over a thousand years ago and their powers have been reduced (this came when Charles I was executed following the Civil War). However, the monarchy isn’t just a way of increasing tourism and Elizabeth II still has a role to play in British life and politics.

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In the United Kingdom’s unwritten constitution (the set of laws and principles under which our country is governed) the monarch’s powers include the following:

  • Opening and dissolving parliament
  • Appointing the prime minister
  • Giving consent to bills passed by parliament (without this consent a bill can’t become law)
  • Appointing bishops and members of the House of Lords

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This might seem like a lot of power, but these roles are largely ceremonial. For example, her power to appoint the prime minister sounds mighty, but in fact it is simply a convention that the monarch must appoint the leader of the biggest party in the House of Commons.

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Under a convention of the UK’s unwritten constitution, the monarch must always take advice from their ministers — i.e. the elected government.

What do you think? Is it important to maintain our historical identity or is it now an empty ceremony? 

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Either way, the UK does not look like it will become a republic anytime soon! (a state that doesn’t have a monarch). All the main political parties support the idea of a monarchy.