Thursday, 7 February 2013

A Call to arms: Progressivism is not dead

A simple statement, progressivism is not dead.

On Tuesday MPs voted emphatically in favour of legislating on equal marriage for same sex couples. Despite widespread criticism from the incumbant Conservative Party Backbenchers - some of which was truly vile - the Bill passed by a sizable majority. Nadine Dorries MP for example, citing faithfulness during her speech is simply ludicrous; the MP by all accounts is throwing stones from her glass house.

But, i digress, the Bill was passed. Perhaps a defining moment of this Parliament: legislation (that if it gets through the Lords of which there is no guarantee) that addresses one of the many areas of inequality in out society. A piece of legislation that is momentous in allowing same sex couples the share the joyous celebration of love in the form of Marriage. A Bill progressives and reformists can be proud of.

A Bill the Government laid before Parliament. A Bill laid down before Parliament by the Conservative and Liberal Coalition. A Bill passed by Labour.

The defining social Bill of this Parliament was passed by Her Majesty's Opposition, not the incumbent Coalition Government. Conservative members voting against, out numbered those voting in favour. All the Labour MPs voting in favour got this Bill through, and it is important to remember this momentous day as a day Labour took a step towards a fairer Britain.

There is a deep-rooted spine of small "c" conservatism running through the UK. It is by no means as defined as in, say, the American pysche, but we have a tendency to lean to the Right nonetheless. This is why moments such as these matter profoundly in the development of this country into a country with open opportunities for all.

We should not settle with what we have. Plato considered us all to be stuckfast into the castes we're dealt. The Right may well argue that those who "work hard" will be rewarded - a subtle jibe at the working classes aspiring to be middle class - but we all know it is not that simple. Mother has worked hard all of her life, working when she could, between being a single parent; she will always be middle class. We should be working towards bridging the gap that allows all of us to have the same chances the middle and upper classes have.

Michael Gove had a chance to define this Parliaments education policy programme. Rather than addressing the chronic differences between the budgets and by extension opportunities of State and Private Schools. Instead, he went too hard and too fast in trying to remould GCSE's seen as some as too easy. Too easy for whom? Certainly not inner-city schools who have a damaging low number of good teachers. Gove will forever now be branded with the embarrassment of the rejection of his plans by the Education Committee, and his subsequent U-Turn.

This was a characteristically unfair, ill-thought and ill judged Right-wing policy, that the Government should have abandoned far sooner in favour of a reforming policy, opening up the education system for all to do well to all, not adding another tier for the middle-classes to excel in.

If only the ruling few could recognise the minorities who need representing, support and help to at least have the chance to break the mould that Plato would have had them grounded into.

We should be straining every sinew, laboring every lobe of the brain to develop new policies that give everyone the chance to go to University, own their own house, get married to whomever they choose.....

Tuesdays result gives me hope that progressivism is not dead. Come 2015, i'll be voting Labour with the expectation that they are the party to open up the avenues for change and reform, not a party that is making things hard for the "hard working people" they claim to stand up for. I urge you to do the same at the ballot boxes in two and a halfs years time. .

An Open letter to Anne Main MP

Mrs Anne Main                                                                                                                   05/02/13
House of Commons

Dear Mrs Main

I write today with the second reading of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill in mind. I have followed today’s debate with great intrigue, listening where I can to MPs speeches on the issue of equal marriage. Debates such as these make me proud of our Members of Parliament; typically the floor of the House is embarrassingly empty, however today the level of involvement on the floor of the House has made me proud of our democracy, for someone with a fondness of Parliament, it is nice to see MPs and indeed you involved in the debate.

However I am upset to see you voted against the Bill.

I understand the points you made during the debate; you are correct that it featured in neither of the coalition party’s election manifestos hence there is no mandate to legislate on this issue. This does not suggest however that you the elected legislature cannot govern on the issue. Indeed, this is a conscious issue where you the MP must uphold the Burkean (after statesman Edmund Burke) principle of voting in the best interests of your most loyal constitutes of whom you represent.

This is wrong. In entrusting you with the Burkean principles of representation, we the people of St Albans expect more than just a representation of St Albans interests. We expect you to be better, in standing up and arguing for what is fair and is what is right. I find it hard to believe that the UK can denounce countries who murder people for being gay, yet fail to recognise the right of man to love someone of the same sex in the act of marriage.

Indeed, during the debate I was moved by the words of David Lammy MP (Tottenham) who argues that we cannot be “separate and equal.” I refer you to the words of Salmon P. Chase, who in the aftermath of the passing of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854 said “There can be no Democracy which does not fully maintain the rights of man, as man.” While speaking on an issue of slavery (which has since been abolished in the US gladly) I wonder if his words can indeed be echoed today as well. How can we knowingly walk down the street, shoulder to shoulder, with homosexuals of whom we deny the joyous celebration of love that is marriage between two individuals?

While I respect your views to be your own, I urge you to clarify your position on this issue, and your reasons for voting against the Bill, by releasing a press-release on the issue and perhaps publishing your reasons in the local newspaper so your most loyal constituents can comprehend your reasons in obstructing this progressive piece of legislation. 

Yours Sincerely,

A St Albans constituent

Sunday, 27 January 2013

My Show, Harry's Show, The Miserables.

This is my Show, Harry's Show, The Miserables... It really was nice of Universal Pictures to front the cold hard cash required to put on a film about my good friend Harry, a musical masterpiece marveling his musings on the big screen for all to see. It truly is a dream come true to see his life being put on for millions of people to s... oh, right yes, inside jokes and all that.

If you've been comatose for the last 25 years or indeed militantly against musical theater, it is probably not wrong to assume you've heard of Les Misérables or to those in the know, Les Mis... The book by Victor Hugo , the musical that has ran on Broadway for 25 years and now the film, is about a French convict come good Samaritan (Jean Valjean) who breaks parole and is forever escaping the capture of a Policeman (Javert). All this is set against the backdrop of the French Revolution, exciting times. There's a daughter involved and various family/love interests that either help or hinder the hero's cause in some way.

The film took a while to get going in my opinion. It was only really when our timeline of events entered Paris (where both Javert and Valjean are in the autumn years and the daughter Cosette is all grown up) when the cinema sat up out of their chairs: a combination of edge of their seat engagement in the film and also a reflection of the viewers desire to get out their seats and get involved, to join the revolution as it were. From then on it's a mixed bag of camaraderie, honour and heroism which one can't help but be drawn into: either the viewer is rooting for Valjean's cause (an awful injustice on his part) or the viewer is rooting for the young revolutionaries dogged fight against the ruling classes. 
All set during the French Revolution

 It is a musical, and you cannot really avoid that if you're not especially keen on this kind of thing. But honestly this is one of the most thoroughly well put together musicals i have ever seen. Hugh Jackman does perfectly well, as indeed do all  the cast. Russell Crowe has been criticised, but i believe he played the role perfectly, his gruff tone only added to the atmosphere when he and Valjean confront each other. 

I would recommend the film to most, although if you ardently dislike musicals i would avoid this number, near enough every line is sung. 

I can understand if you're not convinced, "It's a musical, it's all singing and dancing, not that keen on said actor" etc etc may well crop up as prejudices about the film, but consider the following: during the film, something incredible happened. People clapped at the end, this isnt something i enjoy, i always feel it a bit awkward but consider this; people clapped during the film as well. In addition, in a big cinema such was the one i was in, a quick glance around and everyone was either mouths open, or had tears running down their faces. Such universal, cinema wide engagement in the film has to count for something, and i can confirm i was caught up in it just as the family were when i went to watch it. Head over to the local movie theater and see if you get caught up in it all as i was. Manly tears were definitely shed.

Do comment, share and follow me on twitter: @alexsmith321 

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Hitman: Absolution

A look back at the games i've played in 2012 (and a little spill over into 2013 in this case!) Hitman: Absolution is probably the best game i have played all year.

Okay, the line-up of games isn't too impressive, nothing worthy enough to make my claim of best game of 2012 at all legitimate, but i've played in 2012: FIFA 2013, Madden 2013, Rugby Challenge, F1 Race Stars, Max Payne 3, Assasin's Creed Revelations (yes, its not the latest in the series but i played it for long enough in 2012 to warrant it a 2012 game!), London 2012 (Olympics), Call of Duty MW3, Sleeping Dogs and finally Hitman.
Agent 47

Yes, it's mostly been sports games, but compared with the "non-sports" games Hitman is the standout.

 The thing about Hitman is something that has been missing from so many games lately: a varied and open ended game which gives the player the choice to make his own choices about how he wants to complete the game. The market is perilously overloaded at the moment with games that signpost the trail for you that it's like you're riding on that Ghost Ride at Alton Towers: You sit in your wagon, you can kill as many or as little as you like but in the end you'll follow the pre-determined track to a pre-determined destination.

Agent 47 dressed to Kill (literal) in a sewer workers uniform
Hitman throws that right out the window. As the title suggests, the bulk of the game is spent killing targets. That's about all you're given in terms of objectives, it's then up to you how you do it. The choices are as good as endless. You can choose to use one of (usually three although up to i'm told ten)  signature kills (which are spectacular) which involve for example, stealing a particular disguise, using it to access a particular room in which there is a particular button and pushing said button can kill the target as the button releases the load suspended on a crane onto the target. This of course has to be done stealthy for it to work, doing so will earn you bonuses.

Alternatively, you can go your own way, use your own weapons, objects or scenery to kill the target.

Hitman performing a signature kill:
poisoning the targets lunch of Sushi
The game is heavily based around stealth, although you can shoot your way through missions, you wont be rewarded as heavily at the end of the mission. The game is best played patiently, using your time to scope out targets, evaluate the setting before infiltrating and executing the mission. If you consider each mission like a mini-movie, you can begin to appreciate the games best parts. Of course in a movie, you need to set the scene (which in this case would be familiarizing yourself with the setting) before identifying characters and identifying a plan of action. This is done either through intuition, or in most cases listening in on other characters (baddies) in the game - "hey, can you believe the load on that crane is suspended like that, that could kill someone" - at which point you need to figure out how to use said scenery to kill the target (making it all look like an accident). Then, you must escape the area unseen. Having gone through all this, each mission is indeed like a little movie, which for me made the game more enjoyable.

The paitence aspect builds atmosphere and suspense. If you're spotted and guards get suspicious you must then wait around in a nearby store cupboard and wait for them to pass, or you wait for your target to get into position. All this steady build up results in unsurprisingly, a game with a long shelf life. With many games featuring the wham bam thank you ma'am approach, this is a welcome change.

I saw the game recently on Amazon for less that £20, which while a couple of months out of date, is an absolute steal. There are a number of other mini and online games after you complete the story to enjoy. Buy this game, and by all means thank me when you've completed it.

Monday, 8 October 2012

Don't stray too far to the left m'dear...

Casting my mind back to October 2010, I am sat in a Political Science class at the University of Hull and I remember the unmistakable feeling of being completely out of my depth. Indeed, I had had the same feeling earlier in the week in my first lecture of my University career. Sat with a friend (also a first year) we soon deducted that we were in a class full of second years. The class began and of course the discussion was of a high caliber so to speak, which left me trudging home with one thought in my mind: "what have I done? Why did i choose this course?"

Labour's Original Logo, used until 1983
I had come to University to study Law with Legislative Studies not to refine my knowledge, but instead to learn it from the ground up. In reality I felt completely unfit to be at University, clearly i was not up to the level of peers who had an encyclopedic knowledge of the law and British Politics.

I hadn't studied Politics or Law at school, so it was all new ground. Back in my political science class we were discussing topics for an upcoming presentation we all had to give individually. Seeing as all of us would be giving our own presentations my tutor suggested we choose our own topics. (On a side note, I can't praise my tutor enough, Dr Colin Tyler. He had a dryness about him yet at the same time an energy for Politics which I was at the time very much in awe of). One of the topics available, upon suggestion, was "Is New Labour dead?".

I didn't understand the question so much. As mentioned, my knowledge of Politics was limited to who the Party Leaders were, and the policies each party stood for. At this point i wasn't fully up to speed on what New and indeed Old Labour was. At the time I was very much an advocate for the Labour Party, and I felt a certain disgust and indeed confusion about a peers suggestion that the Labour Party was no more, New Labour couldn't govern in future.

"Trying to please everyone, all of the time" 
I know of course understand. The project of aligning Labour more centrally, the baby of Blair, Brown and Mandelson, had at this point run its course. New Labour and its leader Gordon Brown had been rejected in the 2010 General Election. The question of "Is New Labour dead?" was asking whether or not New Labour would again reposition itself further left, or remain left of center.

The point of New Labour in the first place was very much to distance itself from the old Tory war cries of "the Looney Left". They moved to the middle to appeal to more voters; which while not true to the (Old Labour) core support of the party of socialists, it did show Labour were willing to compromise with the electorate: to reach a middle ground through which realistic, achievable reform could be made.

Indeed, the rejection of (New) Labour and its programme in 2010 led to suggestions of moving back to the left. The Liberal Democrat performance in coalition Government (a poor one by all accounts) may well encourage Labour to occupy the Lib Dem ground: to appeal to Liberal Voters left disenfranchised by the Lib Dem's broken promises and divided party. While Labour would be right to believe they can win Lib Dem seats at the next election - for the future of the Labour party and indeed the country - I consider it a mistake to return to the days of Old Labour and the Red Flag.

Red Ed/Middleband (Ed Miliband)
Yes, Labour can offer a similar alternative to the Liberal Democrats, but they should be mindful of slipping too far to the left. Old habits die hard: Labour should be cautious of toeing the line that kept them out of government for 19 years during the Thatcher/Major years. Many at the time considered them a party unfit to Govern. They were not an alternative to Government, they were merely a party of protest. Policy was only developed if it was the polar opposite to that of the Tory's. This is not a party ready to Govern, these are characteristics of a protest group, that while will appeal massively to a few, will not appeal to the majority of aspiring Liberal left voters who are willing to compromise on the New Labour ethos of social democracy meeting neo-liberalism. 

Ed Miliband may well have been tempted to venture into Socialism territory in his Party Conference speech, making a statement about Labour returning left. However, his much publicised reference to Benjamin Disraeli's thesis of "One Nation" indicates - in my opinion - a reluctance to move too far left. A Conservative statesman, Disraeli's "One Nation" will pander to the floating middle and center right voters. 

If "One Nation" is anything to go by, it is a sign that Ed Miliband may well be trying to shake the tag of "red Ed" in favour of "Middleband". If this is the case, I applaud, for while New Labour of 1997 may well have run its course, I do not consider the ethos that surrounds the principle to have died. It was that very ethos that got Labour into office for a party record of 13 years. 

Tuesday, 25 September 2012

Ed Miliband is on course

You're supposed to be answering the questions, good sir 
If you follow me on twitter ( @alexsmith321 ) you'll know that one thing that really gets on the proverbial tits is when David Cameron asks questions of Ed Miliband during PMQs. To further enlighten, PMQs stands for Prime Ministers Questions, it does not stand for Shadow Leaders Questions. Until SLQs is scheduled for Parliament, I would much prefer it if Cameron chose to answer questions asked of his Government, not ask questions of the opposition leader. For me, this is a big flaw in his game, and the Labour party should exploit it more.

One of the most frequently asked questions by David Cameron in the direction of Ed Miliband is along the lines of: Where's the manifesto?

No Republican policy until Romney was on the Scene
Its a weak response to what is usually a testing question about Government Policy. It is weak because rather than give the media a soundbite about policy (which would most probably be a negative one about the Government's shortcomings), he gives the press a soundbite which sounds something like "We'll comment on our policy to do with the opposition leader has told us about his party's policy!"

Little does Cameron know, Milibands approach here is actually spot on. There is no harm at this stage in not having released his mandate to Govern. 

Tony Blair was reasonably quick when it came to developing his mandate "because Britain deserves better" because a rather turbulent Tory party was in Government. A General Election could have been called at any time, particularly because Major after the 1992 Election eventually lost his overall 21 seat majority. A vote of no confidence could have occurred at any time, or simply Major could have gone back to the polls to try and increase his stake in the Commons. 

No such thing can happen this time round. The Parliament Act 2011 now allows for fixed term Parliaments of five years, meaning unless we experience some very extreme and rare circumstances, we'll have to wait until 2015 for the next Election.

We now operate a system very similar to the US. They don't issue a mandate after a year in opposition, largely because they haven't selected a Presidential Nominee! They instead cause the Government nuisance, holding them to account, questioning policy and being, in general, a thorn in the side of the party in Office. 

No sense in getting out the traps too early
Seeing as Miliband knows there won't be a General Election until 2015, he's doing the right thing in delaying any kind of policy announcement. Instead he spends time on policy development and strengthening the party, before eventually releasing a mandate, at say the Party Conference in 2013, to give it a year and a half to sink in and develop. 

Sunday, 23 September 2012

Andrew Mitchell - Answers, not apologies needed

We are in a brief passage of history at the moment where the Police service appear to be in the news an awful lot. Beginning last Wednesday (12 September 2012) with the statement from the Prime Minister, apologising and condoling with the families of the victims of the Hillsborough disaster, where 96 football fans went to watch Liverpool play Nottingham Forrest and never came home. The statement at last seemed to put to bed who was to blame, which for years was the victims as a result of a police smear campaign.

News then broke Wednesday morning (19 September 2012) of the killing of two police women in Manchester, after an apparent hoax call, leading the two officers into a death trap. 

Within 24 hours the Police were once again at the center of a media storm, as Chief Whip Andrew Mitchell allegedly shouted abuse at Police guarding the gates to Downing Street for not letting him through on his bicycle. The claims made by the Police include Mitchell shouting "do you know who I am?", " learn your place", "I'll have your jobs for this" and "'re fucking plebs".

Dubbed as "Mitchellgate", "Plebgate" and "gategate", the story raises the important point of status and position in British society. 

While some may or may not agree with the methods used by the Police, but there is no doubt in this situation, someone has gotten above their station and used their status as a means to try and quieten the other into submission. 

On the one hand, the Police could be seen as being too unreasonable in this instance. Let the man through on his bike, no harm done, Mitchell gets home 5 minutes earlier. Or, as was the case the Police stick to the protocol laid before them, and do not allow Mitchell to pass through security. As a result, Mitchell kicked off. 

Now, the Police no doubt will be given tongue-lashings invariable around the country, infact i'm sure the Police have probably heard a lot worse on a Friday night outside nightclubs. This however is not the issue in my opinion. 

What's gone on here is a Cabinet member to get above his station. Using his power, threatening to "have his job for this" is unacceptable. The power bestowed on him by David Cameron, can just as easily be taken away by him, if not the electorate in the next general election. There is no absolute and infinite power MPs have. Serving Government and the people should be a privilege, not something used a bargaining chip in the game of life. He should be asked where he gets off on the idea that status, position and power should be a means through which he can be treated differently. Had I asked to get through the Downing Street gates, then called the police "fucking plebs", i'm sure I would have walked away in 'cuffs. 

In a social democracy, we should be able to resolve conflict such as this through sound reason and judgement, not resorting to a "my-dads bigger than your dad" esque confrontation. While perhaps not role-models, a Politician of his position should not let down the electorate by making such remarks. 

Already dubbed as "thrasher" for his tough persona, Mitchell has not helped his cause here. "I'm the Chief Whip" may well impress the bourgeoisie, but it won't impress the likes of the working-class. The gap between Politician and electorate is something, in my view, we need to eliminate in order for politicians to be more accessible. Stories such as this do no good. Cameron should make a stand and have Mitchell stand down in order to make the point that in reality, MPs are just elected members of society, not social heavyweights who can bully their way through life.