Silk Road’s Closure – The Latest Depressing Chapter in the ‘War on Drugs’ Epic

Recently, the powers that be flexed their muscles and shut down the online black market the ‘Silk Road’. Its alleged founder Ross William Ulbricht aka the online pseudonym “Dread Pirate Roberts” was arrested earlier this month and faces some hefty charges against his name including drug trafficking, soliciting murder, facilitating computer hacking and money laundering. Silk Road has been around for over two years but it has only really been getting mainstream news attention for the past month or so. Following this spike in interest, Silk Road and the technology associated is getting a bad rep and an unfairly negative image due to misinformation and fear mongering. As well as this, its closure marks another depressing chapter in the ‘War on Drugs’ epic that keeps getting longer and keeps making less sense as it goes along.

Silk Road was most notorious for being a marketplace for those wanting to do their illegal narcotics shopping from the safety and comfort of their own home instead of having to venture to the wrong side of the tracks. It was the black-market-Amazon; you could get what you wanted when you wanted it, delivered straight to your door. It featured an eBay style interface of buyers and sellers with their own individual feedback ratings, so that you could be rest assured whatever narcotics you purchased would be better and safer than whatever that guy that always wears a North Face jacket and apparently never sleeps was selling in your local area.

Items listed on Silk Road were not limited to just drugs and included books, clothes, computer equipment, collectables, fireworks and forged documents but the vast majority of items were of the illegal nature. As it was illegal goods that most people searching down the Silk Road were after, the website was hidden away as part of the ‘deep web’ with the only way to access it being through anonymous browsing clients and the only way to purchase items being crypto-currency.

Media attention has broadly mentioned two legal technologies that are crucial for anyone’s journey down the Silk Road – Tor and Bitcoins. Tor is software that enables online anonymity by relaying online net traffic so that it is hidden away from the Internet’s many all-seeing eyes. Bitcoins are an open-source, peer-to-peer electronic currency purchased using traditional currencies and is free from a central issuing authority and transactions bypass financial institutions. The media’s spin on these innovations has largely been negative, with headlines along the lines of ‘look at all the real bad things this technology is being used for!’ – this smear is unfair and ill-informed. Tor and Bitcoins have more uses beyond shady transactions and they benefit millions around the world and the number of people using them both continues to grow.

The majority of the world doesn’t live in a position of freedom or privilege and Tor helps level the playing field. It allows users to communicate freely when in the web space of restrictive regimes, it can evade monitoring by those using 1984 as a guidebook and as well spread information to citizens that are otherwise restricted. The other key ingredient to the Silk Road experience is Bitcoins, an ever-growing crypto-currency. Bitcoins are popular as they are free from third-party mediators and domestic economic problems, which means that costs are kept down and transactions are easier to do and are more secure. They are being used to pay for all sorts of goods and services online with more retailers signing up to them by the day.

Aside from the misinformation about the technologies involved, the closing of Silk Road is just another chapter in the epic tome of the failed war on drugs – a costly war that has raged for over 40 years and has perpetuated many social ills that it apparently aims to prevent. There is a growing consensus around the world from medical experts, politicians and former legislators that the war on drugs is as useful as pissing into the wind. The deep web is vaster than the ocean floor and already other black markets are up and running, taking Silk Road’s place and evidencing the failings of current drug legislation. Drug dealing is a dangerous world because of its illegality; Silk Road created an environment that removed a lot of the potential high-risk perilous situations and scenarios associated with the drugs trade. The middleman was taken out, so was the shady back alley and the potentially hazardous batch. With Silk Road there was no threat of violence and little chance of being ripped off – when the US government shut down Silk Road it forced users back onto the streets and in to the criminal underworld.

Voices against current drugs legislation are growing louder and change could be soon around the corner; the closure of Silk Road is definitely something that more voices should shout louder about.

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Cameron’s Confused Conservatism: The Marriage Tax Break

During the 2010 election campaign, David Cameron made a big deal out of bashing nanny statism. He proudly stood in front of posters emblazoned with statements such “Big Society, Not Big Government” and proclaimed how “there is such a thing as society, it’s just not the same as the state.” At the same time he also reassured the electorate he was bringing back compassionate Conservatism – he would no longer be a prisoner of an ideological past and would instead promote a more socially tolerant and inclusive governing party. As well as defining himself whilst in opposition, Cameron also made it his moral duty to bully Gordon Brown over his incompetence in governance and promised a plug on the constant stream off legislation that said much, but achieved little.

Three years in to his time as Prime Minister on these three areas Cameron has had a mixed bag of policy successes and failures, his report card reads – overall he must try a lot harder. This week’s commitment to give married couples a tax break is the latest policy that highlights Dave’s shortcomings in these areas which he has pinned his colours to – it’s nanny state moralising, it’s not inclusive and it is not going to achieve a lot.

Whilst on the surface, a tax cut looks like Cameron rolling back the state, starving the beast or whichever Ayn Rand metaphor you prefer – but in reality, the measly saving for couples of £3 a week is not worth the moral statism and social paternalism that comes with it. Implementing this policy is going to come with layers of legislation to work out who is and isn’t eligible and will make individual’s marital status the business of the tax office. As well it is hardly a policy to be championed by someone who is sceptical of the state setting society’s values – remember it is supposed to be Big Society not Big Government.

The principles behind the marriage tax allowance make it exclusive and discriminatory, hardly compassionate. It discriminates against couples that don’t register their relationships with the state and it also distinguishes relationships that do not fit in to the traditional pigeonhole as undesirable. It is a slap in the face to all single parents that went through a divorce for their child’s benefit and it is ignorant to the complexity of modern relationships. It also assumes that a married family unit will produce the best outcomes for a child when in reality a child needs stability and support, not a blueprinted perfect family model.

The stated eventual goal of the marriage tax allowance is to stop the decline in the proportion of married families in the UK and to improve child outcomes. It is hard to see how the policy could incentivise marriage or halt divorce; the saving on offer is so pathetically small. The justification that it would improve child outcomes is shaky as well, Dr Patrick Nolan the Chief Economist at Reform states “The strongest evidence shows that the most important things in ensuring children get the best start in life are having a parent in work and family income. Proposals to recognise marriage in the tax system would not help reduce the number of jobless households or child poverty.”

So whilst he has stated he is an opponent of big state bureaucracy and a promoter of compassionate government, the married tax allowance is the latest in a long string of policies that conflicts with Cameron’s supposed values that he espouses.

It’s not all doom and gloom however, the saving could come in handy but not for its intended reasons. The average marriage in the UK lasts for about 12 years and the marriage tax break over that time would save a couple around £2400. This should get both parties a decent solicitor and also cover the court costs and other miscellaneous fees involved with getting a divorce – perfect.

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No to Votes at 16

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Ed Miliband has pledged to make 16 year olds “part of our democracy” by lowering the voting age if he wins in 2015. Giving 16 year olds the vote does not improve our democracy and as well the justifications for it are weak – the policy is about populist politics rather than actual empowerment. The case for lowering the voting age to 16 is rarely discussed outside school debating societies and even when it is proposed to young people, the majority don’t want it. Probably because the majority of 16 year olds have greater concerns than choosing how much tax they aren’t going to be paying any time soon or who is responsible for collecting their parent’s rubbish bins.

Many of the populist arguments for lowering the voting age don’t add up. A few justifications from the votesat16.org website are easily undone and the idea that at 16 people are responsible enough to be able to vote is inconsistent with how the state currently views and treats 16 year olds. “You can join the army at 16 and potentially die for your country” is one argument – when in reality, with your parent’s permission, you can go through basic training whilst stationed in Britain.

“The law deems you responsible enough to consent to sex and get married.” This is again economical with the truth as the age of consent is to protect children from abuse rather than indicate a sign of maturity. To get married, like joining the army, requires your parent’s permission.

“16 year olds can leave education, enter work and be taxed.” In reality the law now obliges young people to be in some form of education until they are 17, and this is soon to be upped until they are 18. When the message from the state is to stay in education, the argument about 16 year olds being deemed responsible enough to work and pay tax like say a 30 year old falls apart. True 16 year olds can pay tax, but 15 year olds can also pay NI and IC? Why aren’t there demands for 15 year olds get a vote? How far do you take the tax line as well – anyone that has ever bought anything in their life has at some point paid VAT, so surely by this logic 10 year olds should have a right to vote for a party that would scrap VAT on their favourite sweets. No taxation without representation aye?

Society in many areas views 16 year olds as children – not adults. Granted, most businesses that are designed to suck as much money out of you as possible often determine that you should be charged an adult fare from about 16 or sometimes younger but the rest of society does not. At 16 you’re deemed not adult enough to smoke, drink, fully gamble, drive anything that isn’t a 50cc hairdryer, buy knives, buy fireworks or watch a film with a bit too much red or too many swear words in it. If you are incapable of doing any of these things, then how are you supposedly capable of choosing the leader of one of the most powerful nations in the world? The idea that children are growing up quicker than they used to and the voting age should reflect this is also a fallacy. Today young people are; staying at home with their parents, having children, getting married, entering the job market and paying taxes later than previous generations. There is no justification for granting an entitlement for 16 year olds when their responsibilities are as a whole decreasing.

Whilst voting is a right, it is also an onus entrusted to citizens because they are said to be capable of making an adult decision. Since we do not consider 16 year olds as adults in a number of areas, why should they be considered adult enough to be able to make an informed decision when voting? There will be occasions when you get a well-informed 16 year old politico – albeit one that makes you cringe with their statements in UK Youth Parliament or on Young People’s Question Time, if anything UKYP is justification not to allow votes at 16 – that knows more about politics than someone who is old enough to vote. However, this is not justification to change the law to suit them. The 16 year old may be more informed but this does not mean they have a large enough stake in society to determine how it should be governed.

When I was 16 I was unfortunate enough to follow politics and be interested in it, but I was an exception, not the norm. The majority of 18-24 year olds do not vote, so it is a real stretch of the truth by Labour MP Sadiq Khan to say extending the right to 16 year olds will “reinvigorate politics to get teens involved at a younger age.” Giving 16-17 year olds the vote isn’t going to change the face of British politics nor are they going to be a crucial factor in the results of General Election. What the policy is however is cynical – young people as a whole are less informed and can be manipulated more easily in order to gain their vote. This plays in to the hands of parties that want to dumb down politics and push simplistic agendas to the forefront of debate to gain some support – simplistic agendas such as giving 16 year olds the vote.

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Review: Beacons Festival

Beacons Sign

From the 16th to the 19th of August, I was tucked away in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales at the suitably charming Beacons Festival using up my fun tokens for the summer. The fact it took nearly a week for my head to settle down is credit to the organisers for putting on what could soon well be one of the go to names on the UK alternative festival circuit.

With a capacity below 10,000 Beacons is not looking to compete with the more established names yet it provides a festival experience that you’d struggle to find elsewhere. What it lacks in size it makes up for in its atmosphere, there is a relaxed vibe around the place from the moment you enter and the usually arduous task of settling in at a festival is instead replaced by a pleasant experience – the commute from the gate to the campsite is just a short walk that is littered with visual treats.

Beacons’ boutique credentials are on display all around – the vegetarian only curry house, the Whitelocks real ale tent (not a single drop of pissy Tuborg about), no less than three vintage clothes shops, yoga sessions every morning, an urban outfitters tent and the ‘Space Between’ which showcased a diverse range of arts exhibits and workshops from flag painting to philosophy lectures. Anything to float your boat really.

The line up struck a fine balance between established artists and the up and coming – each day had a diverse offering of electronic and guitar-based acts giving attendees a nice choice over how they wanted to nod their head throughout the day.

The first act I saw on the Friday unfortunately disappointed. Egyptian Hip Hop droned out a forgettable set that left me shoegazing for all the wrong reasons. Even when their frontman went for a run around the Loud & Quiet tent there wasn’t much of a connection between band and audience, a shame since they are capable of producing some belters. Looking for a pick-me-up – Move D satisfied my need to boogie with a house-based set that suitably got things heading in the right direction as night-time descended. Simon Green aka Bonobo brought along with him his friends with instruments and created an ambience so good that two tracks in you had forgotten you were inside an oven – one that had a pretty poor PA system. John Talabot rounded off proceedings with a DJ set that encouraged all sorts of shapes to be thrown around and made sure everyone would be sleeping (or not) with a smile plastered across their face.

Saturday for me was a mixed bag of treats – a good mixed bag – more Haribo Starbust than Mars Revels. Bondax shocked no one with a crowd-pleasing effort. A band that are maybe a bit too arty on record – Dutch Uncles proved they could translate their diverse back catalogue in to an emotive yet punchy performance leaving me pleasantly surprised. Prematurely, I briefly stepped in to the dark frenzied world Bicep and Ben UFO were creating at the Resident Advisor Tent before I retreated to the alluring and welcoming sounds of headliners Local Natives – I’m not going to lie, I nearly cried.  The emotive state I was in was perfect to witness Machinedrum’s high-energy set which seamlessly blended dnb and hip hop beats.

An act that could so easily go under-appreciated and get lost amongst the names on a bigger line-up like Bestival or Reading – Django Django were fitting final night headliners and added an impressive live dimension to their eclectic brand of neo-psychedelic indie rock. Although with a limited back catalogue, the band managed to squeeze the last trickles of energy out of a crowd that had seen it all and done it all over the course of the weekend.

Being only its second year of existence some teething problems are expected and I was ready for the odd thing that just wasn’t cricket. The sound was a let down on a number of occasions across different tents and as well the official party unfortunately stopped at 2am each night, leaving it to festival goers to find their own forms of entertainment. One night this manifested as a 200 or so strong campsite sing along with some guy that had learned 4 chords on his acoustic all in the piddling rain. Either the embodiment of the ‘festival spirit’ or a soggy cringe fest, whatever your fancy. At least the vibe wasn’t a Leeds & Reading “my parent’s aren’t here to see this!1!” faux-anarchy one. The limited on sight amenities meant it was easier at times to get illegal goods rather than your essentials, and the hyped diverse food selection didn’t really deliver. Just little niggles but niggles nonetheless.

With the UK summer festival market being oversaturated with big names with even bigger price tags, Beacons Festival is a welcome light in the overbearing darkness – bringing a diverse line-up of acts at an affordable price. Only criticisms are a few issues that can easily be ironed out as the festival grows and when it’s £100 for a weekend ticket, it really would be rude to complain.

8/10

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You can’t just ‘Lose the Lads’ Mags’

The Co-Op has decided to pull Lads’ Mags from their stores and the case they put forward for doing so is a noble one. They’ve decided they value the custom of people that object to having headlines like “BIG BOOBED BRUNETTES” glaring at them more than they do your typical ‘lad’ that is yet to realise you don’t have to pay £2 a week to gawp at boobs or read about ‘men’s lifestyle’. This isn’t a case of over bearing censorship; it’s perfectly reasonable to not want to expose your customers to soft porn whilst they pick up their soft loaf.

Whilst this is a victory – albeit a small one – for feminist groups, the “Lose The Lads’ Mags” campaign that has targeted these publications is in danger of ignoring the elephant in the room. Lads’ Mags are a symptom of a culture that degrades women and there are deeper issues at play.

Sure it’s a good thing that Jack the Lad is going to have to get his smut at a different time to his weekly shop, and it is a good thing that sales have plummeted for magazines which contain degrading descriptions of women which most people can’t distinguish from comments made by convicted rapists. However, this campaign does little to tackle misogynistic attitudes or a culture that says for a woman to be worth something she has to be a sexualised, attractive individual.

Tacky Lads Mags aren’t the most dangerous propagators of harmful values  – they are more a symptom of a culture that is in part bred through the backdoor by “women’s magazines.” Every week catty articles in publications such as OK!, Heat, More! and Cosmopolitan snipe celebrities and instil in women’s minds the idea that their body just wont ever be good enough. They teach that to be ‘worth something’ you better lose the belly, cake on the makeup and criticise and bitch other women in to oblivion. When you look at sales and the circulation of popular women’s magazines they dwarf the likes of Nuts, Zoo and FHM by hundreds of thousands.

So whilst Lads’ Mags slipping in to obscurity and being ‘de-normalised’ is a good thing for gender equality it detracts from deeper issues about how women’s bodies are portrayed and doesn’t begin to challenge why someone would ever want to appear in a Lads’ Mag. Hiding away Lads’ Mags is one thing but just because the magazines are out of sight, it doesn’t mean the attitudes within them are. Campaigns like “Lose the Lads’ Mags” are good at getting the gender conversation in to the mainstream but ultimately they are treating a small symptom of a problem that can only be solved with greater education, awareness and a more democratised discussion of sex.

 

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Sarah Teather’s ‘Principles’ are a Joke

English: Sarah Teather MP addressing a Liberal...

Sarah Teather MP

Sarah Teather is planning to throw in the towel come 2015 as her party has ‘failed sufficiently to fight for liberal values’ whilst in the Coalition. The Liberal Democrats’ recent stances on immigration have left her feeling desolate as well as catastrophically depressed and her party’s support for Tory welfare reforms are what apparently finally broke her. She is no stranger to acting a bit OTT, apparently sobbing on her first day as a minister at the Department of Education – “I’m a Liberal Democrat. I don’t know what to do. We were never actually supposed to be in government.” Considering Teather is a budding comedian perhaps her overuse of hyperbole is just a part of her act? But like her stand-up routine at the Lib Dem Party Conference, it’s just not that funny nor does it particularly make a lot of sense.

Teather’s ‘noble stand’ isn’t all that noble when you cut through the guff about depression and her supposed principles regarding social justice, and look at the substance and inconsistencies of her past political decisions. Her voting record is hardly that of a crusader against the ‘illiberal’ ConDem establishment, having rebelled only 3% of the time against the government. For someone that is so emotionally attached to her own belief of social justice, Teather has a voting record that doesn’t quite match up with her rhetoric. For example, she has consistently voted in favour of raising VAT – a tax that has been shown to be regressive and one that the poorest 20% of UK households spend a higher proportion of their disposable income compared to the richest 20%. She has also supported the Coalition’s line on tuition fees, legal aid cuts and did not even turn up to vote on welfare reform – hardly the actions of a truly dissatisfied MP.

The debate is not whether these policies are particularly illiberal, rather it is how hypocritical Teather’s position is – why is a welfare cap so demonstrably wrong and illiberal in her eyes but voting to cut legal aid is not? Teather’s position on equal marriage also doesn’t add up with her egalitarian image – how can you claim to pursue social justice when you vote against a policy based upon the principle that everyone is equal before the law regardless of sexual orientation?

If Teather really was as principled as she makes out then why has she not resigned now and triggered a by-election standing as an independent? Surely that would send a clear message to her party and would affirm herself as a real opponent of the Coalition’s current course of action. The evidence is stacking up against Teather – she is not standing down from her position on a matter of principle, she has instead decided to jump before the electorate pushed her out.

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Syria – Considering the Basics

After David Cameron’s historic slap down from the House of Commons last week, the wheels seem to be coming off the intervention in Syria bandwagon altogether. Whilst some policy makers in the West are still adamant intervention is necessary in order to stop the use of chemical weapons against Syrian civilians, the case for military action is fundamentally flawed. Going back to the basics of information gathering – who, what, where, when and why? – the shortcomings of the interventionist argument become clear.

Map of Syria, showing its adjacent location we...

First of all – it is yet to be confirmed who is responsible for the attacks? The current evidence is shaky and reports from the ground are contradictory – conflicts such as this aren’t a simple case of good vs. evil. Whilst the Assad Regime is deplorable, the Rebels are no knights in shining armour. As well it should not be forgotten that the justification for the Iraq war was based upon ‘unimpeachable’ evidence that Iraq possessed WMD’s, which of course turned out to be a lie. David Cameron’s initial gung-ho attitude risked history repeating itself.

Secondly, what will an intervention look like and where will it target? It’s been stated that an intervention would be made up of ‘strategic military strikes’ and its been promised there will be ‘no boots on the ground’ – however many analysts have doubted the effectiveness and coherence of this strategy. It’s never been articulated how the desired outcome of ‘ending the slaughter’ will be achieved through the proposed military action.

Thirdly, when would said intervention be deemed a success? What if the proposed strategy fails in its goal? Do we just keep rolling the dice until we get the result we want? UN estimates over 100000 Syrians have died in the conflict; will it be deemed acceptable for this bloodshed to continue just because chemical weapons are no longer being used.

Finally and perhaps the most important question, why is military intervention the first go to option? There is little appetite from the public for an intervention based on current evidence and its effectiveness is highly doubtful for a number of reasons. Its goal has never been clearly articulated nor has conclusive evidence been used to back up its justification. Going to war is a course of action that requires a detailed plan scrutinised at every level, not a decision made on a whim that ‘something must be done.’ David Cameron has since announced he envisions the UK to lead the world in getting humanitarian aid to Syrian Refugees – it’s unfortunate that this has been considered the lesser option to an escalation of violence.

Perhaps a military intervention in Syria should not be ruled out entirely, but as things stand – where there are more questions than answers – it would be wrong for the UK to commit to a military intervention in a volatile region that would lead to more bloodshed.

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The Minimum Wage Was 15 recently – Not much of a party atmosphere for Britain’s lowest paid

Sir George Bain, one of the chief architects of the minimum wage has said that the New Labour flagship policy is no longer working – and he has got a point. The minimum wage has lost its value over the years as inflation has outpaced median pay in the UK causing millions to be earning less than the accepted ‘living wage’ needed for a basic standard of living. There are signs of an economic recovery sprouting, which is giving Conservative politicians reason to be cheerful but whilst ‘Plan A’ might be showing signs of ‘working’, the reality for a lot of workers in the UK is that they themselves are still ‘hurting’. Inflation continues to rise, wages are stagnating and living standards are dropping – this is no reason to celebrate.

It is people that are at the bottom of the pay scale that are affected most during times of economic uncertainty and undeniably more should be done to help ensure their financial security. There is a general consensus that the status quo is trapping low wage earners in an unsustainable and unacceptable position, however the current popular solutions from across the political spectrum could not be more disparate and neither offers an effective solution likely to be implemented any time soon.

One oft given resolution to this problem is to enforce businesses to raise the minimum wage to the rate of the ‘Living Wage’ as determined by the Living Wage Foundation – which would mean workers would be paid £7.45/h as opposed to the current £6.19/h. Admirably, there are over 200 UK companies that already pay workers at this rate voluntarily and the idea has cross party support – it has been backed by both Boris Johnson and Ed Miliband.

However, the idea of a living wage is condemned for ‘raising the ladder’ to the jobs market – making it more difficult for low paid or un-skilled workers to get employment. Using basic economic theory it’s easy to conclude that setting a minimum value for someone’s labour drives up the costs of running a business – it makes employers less likely to employ more people thus pricing people out of the market.  Raising the minimum wage would on the one hand be beneficial to workers in employment putting more in to their pockets however it would have wider detrimental implications by adding another barrier to the unemployed. It’s pretty reasonable to lobby large multi-national corporations with booming profits to chuck a couple of extra pennies towards their workers, but when you consider small and medium-sized enterprises account for between 60 and 70 per cent of jobs in the UK economy – demanding these businesses that are already struggling in the current economic climate to cough up more seems pretty counter productive.

Instead of pressuring for a higher minimum wage, the opposite argument is to scrap the minimum wage altogether in order to liberalise the jobs market, encourage businesses to employ more people and make it easier for people to get their first crucial step on to the jobs ladder. It’s a straightforward, simple argument – if employers could pay some workers lower than the artificially high amount set by the minimum wage then they could hire more workers and reduce unemployment. It’s easy to regurgitate a Milton Friedman talk and assume that if the minimum wage was scrapped all our economic woes would go away – it’s good on paper but sketchy in practice.

Numerous reports have refuted the link between the minimum wage and unemployment showing that no conclusive point can be made either way. However, what can be concluded is that scrapping the minimum wage may liberalise the job’s market but it’s almost certainly going to end up with the lowest paid with a lot less in their pocket and will further bloat the welfare bill as government will have to compensate for this. With costs of pretty much everything going up, it makes little sense to hit the most vulnerable in society with another economic gamble when the results are so inconclusive.

The jury is out about what to do with the minimum wage and neither of these proposed solutions are likely to appear in any mainstream political parties manifesto anytime soon. So if the answer is not to raise the minimum wage and it’s not to scrap it, then surely the answer can lie somewhere in the middle?  This interesting report by the Adam Smith Institute recommends an alternative that avoids the pitfalls of the main popular alternatives and exposes the elephant in the room – the post-tax earnings of a worker on the ‘Living Wage’ is painfully close to the pre-tax earnings of a worker on the National Minimum Wage – this fact should not be overlooked and it’s a tragedy that it is. A full time worker earning the national minimum wage currently earns £12,875 a year before tax and the current rate for a full time worker earning the agreed ‘Living wage’ after tax is £13,355. By increasing the tax-free threshold to levels around £13,000 and taking minimum wage earners out of tax altogether, the government would effectively allow low paid workers to earn a living wage without forcing greater costs on businesses. It really is one of the biggest and greatest elephant sitting in the corner of the HM Revenue & Customs Tax office.

It is time the debate over the minimum wage moved on from the simplistic “raise it / scrap it” arguments and considered this alternative. The scale of low pay in Britain is a national scandal but it is an even greater scandal that a living wage can be delivered without hurting businesses and no one in power seems to care.

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These so-called defenders of Britain are in fact one of its greatest threats

A driving component of nationalism is the perpetuation of national myths; one contemporary popular myth is to demonise Islam as an expansionist political ideology that threatens to undermine the foundations of British democracy.

For example, take the fresh-faced political party Liberty GB – according to them the threat of Islamist extremism in the 21st century is comparable to the danger that Nazism posed in the 20th century. In a recent viral video entitled “My name is Paul Weston, and I am a Racist”  Liberty GB’s party leader laments that the political establishment has tagged him as a racist for wishing to preserve his country’s culture and for daring to criticise Islam – a tag he now embraces as an ironic political stunt.

Weston slams Islam as a violent and savage political and religious ideology – one that needs to be ‘called out’ for it’s wicked ways. He cites horrors that have been done in the name of Islam and is convinced they will inevitably occur in Britain. Horrors such as the stoning of adulteresses, the beheading of babies and the hanging of homosexuals, Weston predicts, are soon to be a common sight in Britain.

Juxtaposed with this depiction of Islam as a savage force of evil is the factoid that the Islamic population is growing nine times faster than any other demographic in Britain. From this Weston reaches the logical conclusion that Britain is soon to face a ‘full blown religious civil war’ – to occur around 2040 mind you – and it is his and Liberty GB’s duty to confront Islam to stop this. At no point does Weston mention he is talking about extreme examples of fundamental Islamists – it is clear that he despises Islam as a whole and tars all Muslims as fundamentalists.

What Weston has effectively done is put two and two together to get five; he assumes Muslims are a united body hell bent on spreading the terrors practiced by jihadists and militants in the East to the West.  What he spews is based upon selective evidence, ignorance and unjustified fear. Groups such as Liberty GB instead of serving to protect British society and culture arguably do the exact opposite – they create tension based on selective evidence, spread ignorance to impressionable minds and whip up hatred based on unfounded claims and dubious conclusions.

Weston has proudly embraced the racist tag, twisting it to wear as a badge of honour. To avoid giving him what he wants, he should be labelled as not the defender of British culture and society he styles himself as, but one of the architects of its demise. He wilfully spreads misinformation and fear to demonise a minority the consequence of which will inevitably lead to less social cohesion, greater violence and a less safe society.

Half of Britain’s mosques have been attacked since 9/11 and if voices like Weston’s that tar all Muslims as savages become louder, then inevitably anti-Muslim violence in Britain is likely to grow. Violence begets more violence, instead of defending British culture; Liberty GB’s actions undermine it. You wont see people like Paul Weston tearing up your local town centre like the EDL, but a quick glance at the comments on the “I am a Racist” video and you can see the bile they spread is being picked up and inspiring the wrong sorts. Comments ranging from racist slurs to calls for violence are commonplace and there is no denouncement from Liberty GB for them, that is reserved for anyone that dares criticise them letting their true colours shine through.

It is easy to deconstruct the myths about Islam that Weston and his ilk peddle. Tired of constant smears and myths being propagated about Islam, a group made up of two Muslims and two non-Muslims (including one ex BNP member) decided to go out and conduct their own survey to find out what views the average British Muslim really holds. They did so in Alum Rock Birmingham, an area that contains a large Asian population. Alum Rock gained notoriety for being home to suspected terrorists and has been described as a “no go” area for white people. If anywhere is going to give an accurate poll on what British Muslims think, it is here.

Funnily enough the findings of the poll found Muslims in Britain to be a much more tolerant group than the likes of Liberty GB would have you believe. For example- 99% don’t support terrorist activities, 99% don’t believe the Quran justifies terrorism, 98% said they would support their child if they came out as gay, 95% said men and women are equal in the eyes of Allah and believe that Muslim men and women should mix freely. Less than 1% thinks that homosexuals should be stoned to death and 98% don’t believe that Sharia Law should apply to non-Muslims in the UK. Of course this poll is open to accusations of bias due to the motivation behind it however it offers a refreshingly stark contrast to the disgracefully selective bile spewed by Liberty GB.

As well recent events such as the uprisings in Egypt against the Muslim Brotherhood are testament that not all Muslims want to enforce Islamist teachings as a political ideology. However Liberty GB like to ignore these truths, as they don’t fit in with their depiction of Islam as the greatest threat to British society and culture. This publication also further dispels widely held myths about Islam that are far too often spread and believed.

Radical Islam has been responsible for atrocities in Britain; the obvious ones that spring to mind are the London bombings in 2005 and the murder of Lee Rigby in May of this year. These events are deplorable yet they are also so sporadic that to argue they are evidence that Islam is threatening the stability of British civil society is farcical. Groups like Liberty GB that are spreading fear and misinformation are far more likely to create a climate of terror in this country rather than the overwhelmingly moderate Muslim population.

There are legitimate concerns and debates to be had concerning radical Islam but if you believe movements like Liberty GB have the answer, then you don’t understand the question.

 

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Borrowing slogans from the far-right, what could go wrong!?

When the leader of UKIP – a party that feels the need to define itself as ‘non-racist’ on its official website – describes your immigration policy as ‘nasty and unpleasant,’ chances are that there’s something wrong with it.

This week the Home Office launched a billboard campaign aiming to increase the number of illegal immigrants voluntarily handing themselves in. The large billboards placed on the back of vans feature the slogan “Go home or face arrest” and are currently on a trial tour around 6 London boroughs with high immigrant populations.

Illegal immigrants are told to text “HOME” to a number for free advice and help with travel documents. Immigration Minister Mark Harper describes the initiative as “an alternative to being led away in handcuffs.”

Recently David Cameron appears to be taking more and more leaves out of the handbook of right wing populism,  and is increasingly more keen to shadow the behaviour of the party he once dismissed as a collection of ‘fruitcakes’ and ‘closet racists’. With the prospect of UKIP repeating their recent electoral success in next year’s European elections, Cameron is trying to out-populist the champions of populism.

Irony died when Nigel Farage condemned this hard-line approach to immigration as nasty but whilst his criticisms are ironic, there is truth in what he is saying. This campaign simply is nasty, divisive and pointless. Sure it hammers home the message that the ‘Conservatives are tough on immigration’ but is it the right sort of tactic a responsible government should humour, and the costs are sure to outweigh the short term electoral benefits.

Firstly, the ad campaign is easily lamentable as ‘nasty’ racist propaganda. Sunny Hundal draws obvious similarities between the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ slogan and the rhetoric of the National Front and BNP. Whilst the adverts are not racist themselves, should the government be so brazen about promoting and pandering to the voices of the fringe right?

Secondly, why is a subject as delicate as immigration being handled so coldly and with such brashness? Instead of approaching with some tactfulness the government has made a habit recently of trying to look tough on immigration, and coming across divisive. Earlier this month the Home Office controversially tweeted ‘there will be no hiding place for illegal immigrants with the new immigration bill’ alongside a picture of a dark skinned man being led in to the back of a van by some armoured policemen. Are whistle-dog tactics such as this wise at a time when British institutions are still accused of being racist? 

In response to the launch of the billboard campaign, the Refugee and Migrant Forum of East London held an ’emergency tension-monitoring’ meeting with Home Office officials and warned that the initiative had created ‘a sense of apprehension, tension and confusion’ amongst its clients. For a ‘compassionate conservative’, Cameron has acted consistently callously in regards to immigration

As well as being nasty and divisive, the effectiveness of such a campaign is doubtful. As Bishop Patrick Lynch identifies, the demographics of undocumented migration have changed in recent years. The vast majority of illegal immigrants are people who overstay the terms of their visas, especially students. So instead of parading around fascist slogans in ethnically diverse boroughs of London to pick up the odd dissatisfied voter, the government should focus on working with institutions dealing with immigrants and our own border control to solve this issue.

In face of all this, prominent Conservatives Boris Johnson and Nadhim Zahawi back a one-off amnesty policy that would provide a boost to the economy coinciding with tougher border policies.  There are ways to solve the illegal immigration puzzle without resorting to the language and the tactics of the far right, unfortunately this suggestion was rejected by the party hierarchy, who’ll have next years European elections in mind and irrationally fear a repeat of UKIP’s 2013 summer surge.

Finally, the absurdness of the government’s approach has led to ridicule. On twitter, the #racistvan hashtag displays what little authority the campaign holds and is a testament to the government’s incompetence.  The UK’s online wind-up merchants have been trolling the government’s campaign by flooding the billboard’s text number with prank requests for taxis home, free holidays and lifts across the country. The idea that illegal immigrants aren’t aware what they are doing is illegal and will be punished with a prison sentence as well is laughable. All this campaign does is play on the fears of disgruntled right wing voters and spark tensions in ethnically diverse areas.

So whilst trying to appear strong and tough on illegal immigrants the government in reality has come across nasty, divisive and incompetent. Theresa May once bemoaned that some people called The Conservative Party, ‘the nasty party.’ One way of rectifying this would be to avoid decrepit political stunts such as this.

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