Monthly Archives: September 2013

No to Votes at 16


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 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.


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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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