Uncategorized

Theresa May Calls Snap Election

Breaking with her previous statements about not calling a general election before 2020, Prime Minister Theresa May, today announced that she wants a general election to be held on 8th June.

In a statement, the Prime Minister stated that when she came to power in July, 2016, the country was in need of a stable and secure hand, to deliver the results of the referendum. She believes that she has delivers that, and now she feels that in order to properly deliver the fully Brexit package, she must secure a mandate for herself and the Conservative Party.

By calling a general election, Theresa May hopes to prevent the squabbling and nit picking that Labour and the Liberal Democrats had promised to deliver, had Parliament sat until 2020. With the Conservatives polling 21 percentage points ahead of Labour in the most recent opinion polls, the Prime Minister is no doubt confident that she can win a sizeable majority and strengthen her hand, when it comes to achieving her key policy proposals.

However, despite calling for a General Election, Theresa May is not guaranteed to get one. By order of the Fixed Term Parliaments Act of 2011, in order to dissolve Parliament and have a general election, the Prime Minister would need to get a two thirds majority of votes in favour of a new election.

There are those who think it would be within Labour and the Liberal Democrats interest to prevent the passage of the vote, as they believe that seizing on the potential chaos of the actual Brexit negotiations, could add to Labour and the Liberal Democrats appeal in 2020.

However, both Jeremy Corbyn and Tim Farron, leaders of Labour and the Liberal Democrats respectively, have stated that they will support the call for the dissolution of Parliament and the calling of a new election for 8th June.

At the time of writing, it has been confirmed that Parliament will be formally dissolved on 3rd May, and that the deadline for parties to recommend their candidates is a week later. Deadlines for registering to vote will be 22nd May.

With this move, Theresa May has guaranteed that things in Britain are to be even more heated for the next few weeks and perhaps for the weeks after the election as well as leading up to it. A potentially smart move, or one that could damn her and her party. Only time will tell.

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Uncategorized

A Take on the West Midlands Mayoral Election

On 4th May, 2017, voters in the West Midlands will head to the voting booth to decide who they wish to serve as the mayor of the West Midlands. The election comes off the head of a series of devolution grants made by the David Cameron administration, in a bid to give more power to local governments and areas. Consequently, the election for the mayor of the West Midlands will be a big election. Whoever wins the election will have broad powers to develop transport throughout the West Midlands, ensure that roads are properly managed, handle the housing issue within the West Midlands, and ensure that there is an appropriate funding for economic growth. So, all in all, some key powers will be under the purview of the West Midlands Mayor.

The main candidates for mayor are: Labour’s Sion Simon, Conservative Andy Street and Liberal Democrat Beverley Nielsen. All three candidates have some experience in leadership, be it Andy Street’s time leading John Lewis through several quarters of profit, Beverly Nielsen leading the Confederation of British Business, or Sion Simon’s time as an MP for Erdington in Birmingham. However, there is where the similarities between the candidates largely end.

Labour’s Sion Simon barely featured in mayoral debates until roughly two weeks ago. He has not released a manifesto stating what he would do if elected to the position of mayor, and seems to be counting on the West Midland’s preference for Labour, as the main way he will be elected.  Generally, it appears Mr Simon has not taken the mayoral election seriously, he presents himself as the non-Conservative candidate, and not beholden to London. He speaks of taking back control for the West Midlands but he does not specify how he would do this.

Conservative candidate Andy Street appears to be the more promising candidate when compared to Mr Simon. He has actively campaigned throughout the West Midlands, and has used his campaign to bring the different communities within the West Midlands together. He has used his campaign events to state how he would handle transport costs and how he would bring people back to work. He has shown he cares about the West Midlands and takes his role seriously. During the campaign, he has already been to India and to other regions to drum up business for the West Midlands, he appears to be a man committed to fulfilling his promises and not using the party he is a member of to ride into power.

Liberal Democrat candidate Beverley Nielsen, has an impressive resume in the West Midlands, working for the Confederation of British Industry, starting up her own company and working for Warwick University as a business advisor. Like Mr Street and unlike Mr Simon, she has been actively campaigning throughout the West Midlands, using her experience in business to charm potential voters to her cause. Her policy proposals are slightly like Andy Street’s but they are sensible proposals and include a free bus pass for young people to encourage them to travel more to look for work, and a network rail link between Birmingham and Moseley. Whilst she has been active in the West Midlands, she has not quite had the same verve and activity as Mr Street has in trying to bring more people to invest in the West Midlands from outside the area. This could work in her favour though, as voters could see her as being firmly rooted within the area and not beholden to outside interests.

Both Mr Street and Mrs Nielsen have not used their party tag, to attract voters, unlike Mr Simon. Instead they have worked hard to develop sensible policies, by looking at the issues that affect the people of the West Midlands, and they have presented their proposals in sensible and direct ways. Unlike Mr Simon, they have kept a very visible presence within the West Midlands during the campaign. By doing so, both Nielsen and Street have ensured that the voting public are aware of them and what they stand for.

The West Midlands Mayor would have power to shape and change the economy of the West Midlands for the next few years, therefore it is important that the right candidate is chosen. Sion Simon might be a Labour politician, campaigning in an area that usually votes strongly for Labour, but his lack of visible policies or even presence during the campaign could well count against him. The one plus side for Sion Simon could be that he has come out openly in support of Britain’s exit from the EU (Brexit), and as the West Midlands voted 52.6% to leave the EU, this could go over well with voters.

It all hangs on how voters feel on the day itself. If they wish for the stability and safety of Labour, or of the uncertainty but possibility the other two candidates offer. It is sure to be an interesting result and outcome for all involved, just as the campaign has been.

 

Uncategorized

Coca Cola and Journalism

Journalists like to see themselves as incorruptible, as paragons for the truth and for freedom of information. To suggest that they can be bought off like politicians by big business would draw scoffs from any hard nosed journalist worth their salt. However, a recent report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) could very well knock this confidence back a little.

The report by the BMJ states that over a period of several years, the drink giant Coca Cola paid thousands of dollars to help fund conferences for journalists. This resulted in several journalists writing pieces stating that exercise was a greater contributor to obesity than the consumption of sugary drinks such as Coca Cola.

Yoni Freedhoff assistant professor of medicine at Ottawa University, told the BMJ that: “For Coca Cola the ‘energy balance’ message has been a crucial one to cultivate, as its underlying inference is that, even for soda drinkers, obesity is more a consequence of inactivity that it is of regularly drinking liquid candy.”

There exists documented evidence of the tobacco industry’s attempts to derail the effect of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s 1993 report on secondhand smoke. The tobacco industry managed to successfully plant stories within the mainstream media that questioned the ‘scientific validity’ of the report that helped build doubt amongst consumers. The stories came out after the tobacco industry funded events for journalists and generally courted them through various means, suggesting that even members of the Fourth Estate, can fall victim to well orchestrated public relations campaigns. The Coca Cola campaign is no different.

With the Coca Cola campaign, the story begins with a series of articles published in the New York Times and Associated Press on the Global Energy Balance Network, which was a science based collaboration between Coca Cola and university scientists to tackle the obesity crisis.  The company donated $1 million to the University of Colorado, home to the company’s president James Hill.  Over the course of a three year period the company and Coca Cola itself donated thousands of dollars to the University of Colorado, for conferences to be held for journalists.

At these conferences various experts paid for by Coca Cola would give speeches, at which they would follow Coca Cola’s line and espouse that obesity was not caused by drinking sugary drinks such as Coke, but rather, through the lack of exercise someone might suffer from.  The evidence was presented in such a way that it would create doubt in the minds of the journalists who were in attendance, and as such when the conferences were finished, several journalists would go onto write articles that supported the line Coca Cola wanted peddled.

In a series of emails from this period, which the BMJ obtained through a Freedom of Information request, Hill is shown expressing his gratitude to Coca Cola:

“The journalists told us this was an amazing event and they generated a lot of stories. You basically supported the meeting this year, I think we can get many more sponsors involved next year.”

“The conference was a great success and even better than last year. These journalists came away with a much more realistic understanding of society. Thanks again for your support.”

These two emails paint a rather worrying picture. From the way Hill phrases his words, it does not seem as if the journalists did any fact checking of their own-a must for any journalist worth their salt!- and instead simply relied upon the information they were given by the ‘experts’ Coca Cola sent to speak to them.

The blind devotion to the evidence as presented by these so called experts, could well have led to misinformed pieces about the risk of sugary drinks contributing to obesity. Pinning the blame not on an equal share, as many scientists would advise, but instead on the individual as a whole, is not sensible, nor is it accurate. By funding these conferences, Coca Cola was shifting their corporate responsibility, and ensuring that the blame could rest solely with the individuals, and ensuring they could still turn a profit.

Indeed, in emails seen by the BMJ and quoted within their article, a Coca Cola executive is said to have replied to Hill’s emails in the following way: “Have read the entire report, excellent. Count us in for next year.”

A worrying signal, and one that suggests that the game plan they were working under was indeed working to a degree they had perhaps not fully expected to.

That one journalist who worked for CNN felt confident enough to speak so positively about a conference made up of purely Coca Cola approved ‘experts’ paints a further bleak image. In her letter to Hill, that is part of a report he sent to Coca Cola, she said.  “You had all the rock stars of the obesity topic, the quality of speakers chosen was incredible. Never have I been to such a helpful conference.”

However, one beam of hope existed amongst all the journalists who were willingly eating off the plate Coca Cola was giving them. Kristin Jones, became concerned about where the funding for these conferences was coming from, and complained to the National Press Foundation.  The Foundation passed her onto several other places who all did their best to reassure her that the funding was coming from a legitimate source.

However, when the BMJ spoke to her in 2017, she had this to say: “I feel like I was lied to.”  She does not work as a journalist anymore, and told the BMJ. “Had I known where the funding was coming from, I would never have attended those conferences.”

Coca Cola is just one example, and whilst it might seem like something to get overly worried about, that there were journalists just blindly following what they were told and not doing their own research, is deeply concerning. Journalism prides itself on hard work, and proper research, to simply allow big business to court it in such a way that everything else is skewered seems a betrayal to the very values they teach young journalists.

 

 

SNP Referendum, Uncategorized

Does Sturgeon have a plan? Scottish Independence Referendum Take 2

Nicola Sturgeon has  the backing of the Scottish Parliament for a second independence referendum. Sturgeon won the vote with a 10 vote majority. As of yesterday she has officially asked for a second referendum to be considered by Westminster.

In an article for The Guardian, Nicola Sturgeon had this to say.  “Brexit – especially the hard Brexit shaped by May’s inability to shake off the agenda of the Ukip-tinged right wing of her own party – threatens to be an act of self-harm on a scale barely understood. The result is that we must now ensure that people in Scotland are given a choice between the hard Brexit deal now being negotiated, and independence.”

In light of Theresa May and David Davis both refusing in Sturgeon’s words to listen to ‘reasonable Scottish proposals’, it might seem reasonable for Scotland’s First Minister to take this stance as 62% of the Scottish electorate voted to remain in the EU,.

However, one must wonder whether Sturgeon is pursuing this referendum with such gusto as to distract from other areas where the Scottish Government in Holyrood is not doing so well.

In a survey conducted for The Economist, it was found that Scotland ranks third, just before Wales in terms of how well their schools are ranked for the British Isles in terms of Student Performance on a national and international basis. There are claims from Holyrood and from Sturgeon herself that this is the fault of Westminster, however, under the Scotland Act of 1999, the Scottish devolved government and Parliament have control over Education, as well as several other areas.

Healthcare, Education, Justice, Rural Affairs and Policing are all areas that were placed under the Scottish Government’s control in the Scotland Act of 1999. Yet, Healthcare and Education have suffered under the Scottish government. The NHS, like its counterpart in England and Wales is suffering from a lot of strain. Sturgeon and her colleagues in government do not seem to have found a way to properly handle this, and yet, instead of fronting up about this, the tactic has been to blame Tory austerity cuts.

There are the obvious arguments about the falling price of oil, and the faltering performance of the financial sector, since the last independence referendum in 2014. All of which would suggest that Sturgeon and the SNP are struggling for ideas, and hope to use the referendum as a distraction, just as Theresa May is using Brexit as a means for distracting British voters from other key issues.

If Scotland and the SNP want another referendum, then that is all well and good. They should be able to come up with suitable plans for managing the severe consequences that will come from the referendum, whatever direction it goes. As of yet, it does not seem as though there is a solid plan in place, and given Sturgeon has criticised May for the same crime, it does come across as quite hypocritical.

Oil and the financial sector are faltering, membership of the EU is not a guaranteed certainty, indeed, an independent Scotland would be at the back of the queue for membership.  And whilst Sturgeon and her fellow SNP members lambast May for taking the UK out of the single market and the EU, which makes up roughly 30% of total trade for the UK, if they got their independence, they would be taking Scotland out of a single market with the rest of the UK, which accounts for roughly 30-40% of total trade for Scotland.

From the mannerisms of Sturgeon and her supporters, it does not appear as though this has been taken into serious consideration. If Scotland and the SNP want true and proper independence, this must change, and it must change quickly.  This is not 1314, the world has changed since the last time Scotland stood on its own two feet. Plans are needed, security is needed, and business and investment more so than just banking is needed. Whether Sturgeon and her colleagues have plans for this, is not know. As long as that uncertainty remains, so too will challenges to a credible Independent Scotland.