Why a bad workman can blame their tools

There have certainly been mistakes made by the Remain campaign, which makes them “bad workmen”. But the tools they had – the referendum – were dodgy too. Criticisms of the EU Referendum are valid, and the word “democracy” cannot be used as a blanket decision ever made by a majority.

On Thursday 23rd June, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union 51.9% to 48.1%. A key debate following this outcome is whether or not this referendum result should be respected. To many, this appears the backlash of those on the losing side of the referendum. This appears to be a dangerous line of reasoning because it challenges the democratic voice of a people.

However, there was little about this referendum that was democratic. Labelling it as such – and thereby affording it the shield of majority voice – is dangerous.

In Ancient Athens, there was “direct” plebiscite democracy. Every (admittedly only male) citizen would gather to vote on every decision. On Thursday we saw the flaws of reliance on direct democracy: people can be fooled. Within hours of the vote for Brexit, Farage admitted that the £350 million figure was difficult to actually pin down and that any money the UK did find would not necessarily go to the NHS. Even after video evidence of him pledging the money emerged. Hannan admitted that there would be no “radical decline” in immigration because a free trade deal (which requires free movement of peoples) is necessary. And let’s remember that Hannan was part of the Campaign Committee of the official Vote Leave campaign, which, famously, used this picture on the side of their campaign bus.

Of course, there are intellectual arguments for leaving the EU. But these do not appeal to the average working British person who has more practical concerns – or been told to fear Schrodinger’s immigrant; the immigrant who both lazes at home taking all their benefits and steals their jobs.

Today we supposedly live in a representative democracy. The electorate chooses who makes decisions on their behalf, because the volume and technicality of decisions require prolonged consideration. This is something that cannot always be achieved through the mess of political campaigns.

Take the example of the economic arguments surrounding membership. Voters cited the falling share of world GDP held by the European Union as an indicator of its irrelevance. In the 1980s, Europe was 30% of the world economy. Today, it makes up 18% of world GDP. Yet the context is that China in the 1980s only made up 2% of world trade. Now it makes up 17%. It isn’t the EU which is diminishing. It is simply that the developing countries are catching up by industrialising their own economies. Evidence is the fact that the G7 in 1974 were made up of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, the US and the UK. In 2034 there will be no EU countries: only Brazil, China, India, Japan, Us, Russia and South Korea. The EU as a whole however will remain the largest economy even in then.

Let’s go even deeper: the UK’s membership of the EU gives it a huge boost thanks to financial services “passporting”. Passporting means that a firm authorised in any one area of the European Economic Area (EEA) can provide services in all of them. The cost of losing the passport is that (for example) investment banks must conform to other regulations in the target country in which they want to invest. Any double burden (i.e. having to meet two sets of regulations – those at home and those abroad) is always more expensive to the firm.

The EU referendum was an experiment of democracy in the 21st century. It did not work: many believed that they could vote on impulse and reject the advice of experts: this has only led to regret.

Cambridge And Access: A Difficult Story

My first foray into the media surrounding Oxbridge myths; find it over at Huffington Post.

Only after gaining the inside perspective of a student at Cambridge, do I feel competent enough to address what is a clear imbalance in the media regarding Oxbridge admissions and traditions. What I feel is particularly damning is the fact that many of these pieces, which seem to aid diversity in the student body, damage it, as I have argued in my piece linked above.

5 Weeks Later….

Week Five is over. Week 5 colloquially translates the notion that, halfway through the term, students at Cambridge feel that they are most challenged by work. That is the claim advanced by the Cambridge Defend Education campaign #endweek5blues. I want to address their claims, and show why they are simply wrong. Moreover, as I have argued here, #endweek5blues is symptomatic of an existing problem among student politics. In this first post of a two-part series, I am going to outline the arguments raised by the campaign.

I first want to outline their arguments. In presenting the movement’s aims I have tried to copy their language as much as possible, so as to avoid portraying an unfair depiction of their points. As my sources I have used this and this, and my quotes come from these two webpages.

1. Add an extra week between week 4 and 5 which has no extra work scheduled within in order to “give students time to sleep, relax and catch up on work or prepare for the work to come.

2. This will “improve student welfare by reducing the intensity of stress and pressure”.

3. “It will also improve the quality of their work”. Supervisors might also benefit from such a break.

4. “[I]mprove the welfare of students with both mental and physical health problems and disabilities by giving them a time in which to rest, recover and care for themselves”.

5. Prolonging the term will not increase the workload, but will “break the term into two more manageable, accessible halves”.

6. Large amounts of pressure and stress are not important because the aim of university is not to emulate the work environment but to promote learning for the sake of learning.

7. Even if as an individual you do well on the pressure, the benefits for the large amount of students makes it worth it.

8. People will learn not to feel guilty when they are not working.

9. Although people would have two weeks less at home during the holidays, “[t]hose students with the financial means to do so could visit home during the reading week if they want” and some students do not have a safe home to return to.

10. Rent includes the longer term anyway so that students would not have to pay any more than they do. Colleges should otherwise support those students whose finances are stretched in dealing with the living cost.

11. A condition of the reading week would be that students would receive no more lectures, supervisions or other contact time than they currently do. In short, the workload would remain the same, but students would have a break in the middle of term.

12. ‘Cambridge Speaks Its Mind’ and ‘Whose University’ suggest that DosS/Tutor support is not enough.

13. “A reading week won’t solve all of the issues with Cambridge and mental health” but it will improve the situation.

14. A reading week would improve current provision for mental health by resulting in fewer students needing to receive counselling and there would be more time for students.

Student Politics: Immature

Student politics is immature. Until it matures, it will remain inefficient and insignificant.

I have made no bones that I have issues with the Cambridge University Students Union (CUSU), as evidenced here. Previously I have argued, inter alia, against the motion which CUSU passed supporting the “End Week 5 Blues” campaign, and against CUSU’s lobbying the House of Lords, to pass new legislation on a minimum pay for internships.

Prima facie, antipathy to social change for the better seems inexcusable. However, the point that I wish to make (and which brings together my objections) is that student politics should not take up causes which they do not know enough about.

The key distinction between student politics and national politics is scale and resourcing. A successful political campaign requires astute planning and significant research. In protesting against Week Five blues, for example, there has been an active stirring from students against the university. It is not intelligent to aggravate those who could most easily remedy the situation. It would be intelligent where the campaign had researched other alternatives and proposed them and had had them rejected. But this is not the case.

Until student politics actually learns from the more mature campaigns, it will remain weak and ineffectual.