Sunday, 7 October 2012

My week (and a political rant)

To be honest, I should really be studying.  The Cisco IT Essentials course that I am taking has an exam for every chapter, so I will be taking another exam on Wednesday.  It would certainly be nice to repeat the 97.6 percent score I achieved on the last one (I dropped just one question: damn you, Firewire!)

After the Cisco IT Essentials is complete, I will be studying Microsoft Networking Fundamentals, which will enable me to call myself a Microsoft Technology Associate.  Obviously, as an advocate for open source and free software, Linux in particular, taking a Microsoft qualification doesn't sit well with me.  However, I must be realistic about the current state of the computer industry and accept that we live in a Microsoft world.  Somewhere within all of this, I will be taking the vendor-neutral CompTIA A+ exams, which are an essential, internationally-recognised, entry-level IT qualification.

I'm also learning to speak Welsh right now.  The likelihood is that I will have to relocate to England at some point, though I have not given up hope on remaining in North Wales.  If I take an admin or receptionist job to fund my studies, the ability to communicate in Welsh is a major advantage, if not a basic requirement.  Certainly, I have noticed that the more well paid positions demand the ability to communicate in Welsh.  Money has never been the motivating factor in the work that I do, but the recent changes to UK immigration policy have made it necessary for me to seek jobs with high salaries.  In order to bring my fiancĂ©e to the UK from the Philippines, I must earn at least £18,600 before tax: this is largely because we have a Conservative government, but I will come back to that.

So, if we add in the fact that I will continue to study Wing Chun (a southern Chinese style of kung fu, for those who don't know), because I value my ability to defend myself from attack, factor in my voluntary work at Samaritans and with Victim Support, my week is very quickly becoming full.  It would be nice to have time to visit friends, but it is not easy.  On the plus side, where my social life is suffering, I am building a growing body of evidence regarding my work-based skills: the trick is in conveying my many assets to a potential employer in a way that makes him or her want to employ me.

What has got me writing about politics is a piece by BBC News (  I try not to give my own political opinions here, but I feel myself becoming more politically active internally.  I think it's ever since I studied social sciences, which gave me a deeper understanding of politics than I would have otherwise.  Through my voluntary work, I have also come face to face with many of society's ills, maybe not personally, though certainly I have an awareness of the problems facing many people.

If you don't want to read a political rant, you might want to skip the rest of this article.  If you are going to read further, I must lay my cards on the table and tell you that, politically, I am a centrist.  Actually, I may stray a little to the left of centre with my opposition to the death penalty and other core beliefs, but I am, broadly speaking, in the political centre.

I will give a brief explanation of the difference between left-wing, right-wing and centrist policy, while trying to remain neutral.  Certainly, I believe that, if the majority of the UK's population understood these differences, things would be different.

Left-wing politics and political parties aim for a much more egalitarian, or equal, society; those on the right will often accuse the left of being communists, and they are correct in that communism is an extreme version of a left-wing political system, but it is unfair to label the more moderate left-wing parties in such a way.  Policies of the left will usually include measures to improve the living standards of those on lower incomes, and this can involve making life harder for the more affluent members of society.  In the UK, the major left-wing party is Labour, who have a lot of support from trade unions.  Traditionally, Labour could count on support from parts of the UK where household income was relatively poor.

Right-wing politics and political parties are largely focused on maintaining a hierarchical society, with the super rich at the top, the very poor at the bottom, and many layers in between; they will usually explain this as protecting the traditional values of their country, and will often take a tough stance against immigration.  Under a right-wing government, assistance for the poorer members of the population may be cut, while those at the top of the income scale could be subject to low rates of tax, supposedly to encourage entrepreneurs and industry.  In the UK, the major right-wing party is the Conservative party, who have a lot of support from big business, and traditionally could count on support from parts of the country where household income is proportionately high.

Centrist policy, as the name would suggest, comes somewhere between left-wing and right-wing.  There is a belief that societal hierarchy is necessary to a degree, that hard work should be rewarded, but also that a large degree of inequality is undesirable.  Under a centrist government, there is likely to be assistance for poorer members of the population, though there will be less of a tendency to penalise those who have higher incomes.  The emphasis will usually be on creating an environment where everyone, regardless of social class, is able to improve their lot in life.  In the UK, the centre is represented by the Liberal Democrats, whose support comes from a mixture of different sources, though they do not have the same level of support as either of the main left-wing or right-wing parties.

The situation we have in the UK, right now, is a coalition government in power.  The nature of a coalition government is compromise, because two political parties in government, with different aims, will naturally want to pull the country in different directions.  The UK is being governed by a right-wing (Conservative) and a centre (Liberal Democrat) government: the parties running the country differ in their core beliefs.  The story I saw this morning is the latest example of one party in government blocking the policies of the other.

It all started with Lords reform.  It has been a long-standing aim of the Liberal Democrats, and the Liberal Party before them, to reform the House of Lords.  If you are unaware of the function of the Lords, they are there to either approve, modify or block (in reality, delay) bills proposed by the government and passed in the House of Commons.  The Liberal Democrats argue that the current system is open to abuse and influence from those with vested interests, so a large proportion of the Lords should be elected by the public, just as members of parliament are elected by the public.  The Conservatives, being a right-wing party (and therefore in favour of social hierarchy, of which the House of Lords is a prime example) voted against the policy.

In turn, the Liberal Democrats blocked a Conservative policy which would have seen changes to the boundaries of electoral constituencies - changes which would have benefited Conservative Party candidates standing for election.  The link I posted within this piece shows the Conservative Party blocking the Liberal Democrat "mansion tax".  We seem to have reached a point where each party is now blocking the policies of the other, where before they would have compromised.  It is a condition of stalemate, where no contentious policy will come into law, and I think it's a good thing.

I have no doubt that a large number of those who voted Conservative in the last election were guided by the media's campaign against illegal immigrants and asylum seekers.  To be fair, the outgoing Prime Minister did seem incompetent and, through an incident which was damaging to our status as a democracy, we had a Prime Minister no one had actually elected, but we can not escape the fact that people voted for a right-wing government.  Now that I think about it, though, is that what people actually voted for?

If you look at the recent history of Great Britain, you will see a swing from left-wing Labour governments to right-wing Conservative governments.  Unfortunately, it means successive administrations which are fundamentally opposed in their policies and seems to show a population which is increasingly polarised to each extreme in its political beliefs.  Actually, the problem is voter apathy: less people are taking the time to vote, because there is a widespread view that politicians are generally untrustworthy (true) and that the system is somehow broken (again, I can't argue).

In the last election, even with an incompetent Prime Minister, neither of the two largest parties secured enough seats in parliament to form an effective government, so both parties made attempts to form a government with the third largest party - the Liberal Democrats.  The media expected that the Liberal Democrats, being further away from right-wing Conservative policy than the now centre-left position of Labour, would form a government with Gordon Brown; to their credit, the Liberal Democrats reasoned that the Conservatives had secured a greater proportion of the public vote, so they bowed to the will of the people.  In hindsight, it is questionable whether this was in the best interests of the country, though it shows an understanding of, and a commitment to, the principles of democracy.  It would have been strange for a party called the Liberal Democrats to act any other way, right?

Many supporters of the party are now saying that they should leave government, because they are losing support through their association with the Conservatives.  While it is true that the nature of coalition government has seen the party having to compromise, and seemingly break promises made during the election campaign, my belief is that they should not abandon this country by stepping down.  From a personal point of view, my heart sank when the immigration criteria were changed, as did the hearts of many with loved ones who are not currently British citizens.  The only comforting thing is that the Liberal Democrats forced a compromise on immigration policy, which the Conservatives were planning to make even tougher.  How many times has something like this happened?  I guess we'll never know, but I am certain of one thing: I am glad that they are there.

If you take nothing else from this, realise that I am not trying to shape your political allegiance.  You must, however, decide whether you are left-wing, right-wing or centrist.  I apologise if any of my descriptions are biased, but I did tell you that I am a centrist, and therefore Liberal Democrat in a UK context.  What I don't want is for the UK to continue swinging from one extreme to the other: that is known as political instability, and is bad for a country.  Maybe the close result of the last election reflects a generally centrist population who believe there are only two ways to vote?  I know which way I will be voting from this moment forward, and I would like to think that, whatever your beliefs, you have the courage to stand for what you believe in and form a lifelong allegiance to your chosen party.  Let's stop voting for electoral promises, which are usually broken, and vote instead for a long-term vision of how we would like things to be.  While we are at it, could we stop this idiotic trend towards Prime Ministers getting younger?

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