Opinion poll tracker January – Labour retain slim lead

Labour continues to hold a small lead over the Conservatives as the nation comes into the New Year. There is evidence of some voter movement towards UKIP which indicates that their true national level is around 4% or 5% and their General Election performance was distorted by so many of their candidates standing down, as well as tactical voting.

National Overview

Chart G1 shows the Conservatives have slipped back since the 2017 election and Labour now has a lead of 1% in Great Britain. The most striking thing about G1 is the quite extraordinary recovery in the Labour vote from mid-April 2017 when the election was called. Understanding why this happened is key to making sense of the 2017 election and what is likely to happen next. I have to say that from what I have read from political commentators, no-one has yet made sense of this dramatic surge. For myself, I keep coming back to a comment I made to my wife (who is American) that the election was starting to remind me of the Democrats primary battle in 2016 between Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders and I do feel that the two elections share a similar dynamic.

Despite dropping back, the Conservatives are still well placed when compared to previous elections. The difference is that we are now back to 2-party politics last seen in 1979 as shown by chart G3. It would appear from chart G2 that most of the movement away from the Conservatives has been towards UKIP. This does make sense in that UKIP did not stand in many seats in the 2017 election and as a result their vote share would have been artificially depressed. The Greens did a similar thing to UKIP but they have not seen a rebound in their vote which suggests that Green defectors in the electors are remaining loyal to Labour.

With Labour’s slim lead, and ideological allies to form a coalition with, it could be said that if Theresa May were to call an election now it would deliver Jeremy Corbyn to Number 10. However, with a vote coming on the right for 16 year olds to vote it may be wiser for the Labour Party, who perform extremely well with younger voters, to get 16 year olds the franchise before trying to force a fresh election. However elections recently have rarely provided the expected result, and I highly doubt the Tory Party will call an election before Britain’s Brexit deal is wrapped up.

How Neo-Liberalism killed wage growth

The success of more radical politicians should not be a surprise, since the 1980s and the dawn of Neo-Liberalism the working class have suffered and inequality has widened.

Since the Thatcher era in the 80s, productivity has increased dramatically due to automation and technological advances. And whilst productivity rose, in soared the era of globalisation where workers wages have remained stagnant.

Keynes’s Golden Age vs Neo-Liberalism and the Washington Consensus:

A reason why we no longer tax the rich properly:

How capitalism has failed the majoirty: UK

^ In addition to this, 16 million working age people in the UK have less than £100 in savings, living paycheck to paycheck. Prior to 1980 the UK peoples were net savers, post 1980 you can see whats happened.

^ This chart shows that the majority of new income generated from the explosion of profits post 1980 has not been passed on to those who created those profits. It’s gone to our corporate elite, not the workforce.

How capitalism has failed the majoirty: USA

For a country that has no universal healthcare nor free education to spend that much on war does nothing more than create enemies with whom to fight. US total military spending + reserve = $1Trillion a year. For Comparison, Russia spends $60Billion. As does the UK. The banks however are making a killing off Arms in general.
What happened to executive pay post 1980: US

^ This doesn’t even cover their hard assets. This is just the excess cash they don’t know what to do with because there is virtually no return on investment to be found in the global economy and you can only buy so many shares before the returns do not match your outlay. It is now $12 Trillion and counting as of 2016 and its also a big driver behind a rising stock market above a stagnant global economy.

When wage theft took off the in the USA

UK- A mirror image

You can replicate this picture in most capitalist countries. A model exported via financial markets of the US & UK over the 1980’s and 90’s is now dominant. It is supply side economics or “neoliberal” economics as the media likes to say without a clue as to its history (nor the citizens of Chile murdered for its founding, but that’s another story).
Generally speaking, modern capitalist economics doesn’t give a damn how much money is in your pocket, you are only a consumer. Only when you can’t increase your consumption year on year by taking on more debt do the asset owning classes care (1929/2008) but only enough to pillage your country’s savings to allow them to keep lending you the wages you no longer get for what you produce for them per hour, and haven’t done since before 1980, never to change.
Indeed,it’s getting worse.

Points of interest:

66% of all shares globally are owned by 1% of the population. That 1% decide the board of directors who make decisions in their interests that effect the economics and thus lives of billions of people.

In the UK, half the working age population has less than £100 in the bank. Thats 16 million people. The next 4 million have less than £1000. These are working people, in their millions, that after working the entire year wouldn’t have enough left in the bank to pay for a new combi boiler. The USA and many other western nations are no better.

The solution:
Question: Do I think going back to the laws and tax rates of 1945 -> 1980 (a return to Keynesian economics) will help? NO. If we reverse history with laws, when we are grey and mostly gone, the new generation of the 1% will use their wealth to undo everything working people achieved, as they have done many times before. The repeat of history has to stop if this world is to survive, the instabilities of capitalism have to end if all our people are to live with dignity. And you can only do that with systemic change.

How Modern Socialism can solve these problems, and what Corbyn wants

Along with this is a law that UK Labour party will pass that states that any company selling up, merging, off shoring, or closing, its’ workers will be given the option to take control of and operate the company or the buildings and equipment that the company has here if a multinational chooses to leave, and the public bank Jeremy will create will provide the loans to do so.
The corporations will not be allowed to take the equipment and resources the UK taxpayer subsidised if they leave. The workers left behind take that over. It’s called Democracy @ work and Germany already has similar laws including that 45% of the board of directors of a company employing over 1000 people must be taken from the base work force. All combined, it’s a major reason why their manufacturing hasn’t buggered off to China.

If the UK/USA had these laws by 1980 the last 40 years would have been very different indeed. It would have made it so much more difficult for capitalism to abandon the country’s in which it grew up, and with the tools and factories left behind turned over to the workers the corporate elites would have to compete with the workers they left behind for their UK market share which they would lose once the word got out in favour of the UK workers at X factory v shoddy Chinese goods from x Global Capitalist Supranational Corporation.

We are told three lies regarding Karl Marx & Socialism by our historians, teachers, parents, media, and the defenders and beneficiaries of capitalism:

The Media Says Socialism is:
1) Central planning

2) Government ownership

3) Single party rule i.e. the USSR on wards …

He never wrote a single word on these three topics above, nor did he ever propose “an economic model to follow”. He was a critic of capitalism. For the private sector, he wanted nothing less than democracy at work in order to save capitalism from itself and save us from capitalism. He saw and documented the future from 150 years ago, and our leaders response was to discredit him through manipulations of economic fact and history taught from the youngest age in the farthest schools for eternity.

His entire and only focus was on the problems and injustices of capitalism and how to solve them, this is why our ‘Captains of Capitalism’, our education, our historians and the media have lied to us for generations. His life and writing are a danger to the slave master relationship that the asset owning classes want regardless of the country where they control the show, capitalism promised to get rid of this slave master relationship which is a hangover from feudalism with liberty, equality, and fraternity and then it failed to do so anywhere on this earth, instead creating a global version of the hunger games with a trans boarder capable elite.

In summary, Capitalism, has collapsed twice in 75 years and had 11 downturns in between for the USA, 6 for the UK, now entering the 12th/7th since the depression. We need to move far quicker than we are at reclaiming our economies for the many not the few.

Key Government Provider Carillon collapses under billion-pound debt

Carillon, one of the UK’s largest construction and management companies, has been forced into liquidation.

On Monday, after failing to negotiate a deal with the government and investors, the company responsible for huge public-sector redevelopment projects such as HS2 and Liverpool’s new Royal hospital filed for liquidation at the high court.

20,000 workers are set to be made redundant with the company’s pension fund £580m in the red, and debts rising to £1.5bn. Documents show Carillion had only £28m at the point of collapse. Alan, a construction worker from Uxbridge, said: “I never heard of any problems with Carillion, a company that big, awarded all those jobs.”

Over the last 30 years Carillion has been involved in virtually every major UK construction and redevelopment project: the redevelopment of Battersea power station, the Government’s communications hub, GCHQ, London 2012 Olympics, and the library of Birmingham. Carillion also run prisons, barracks and are responsible for delivering meals at several UK schools. Continuing, Alan said: Carillon only have themselves to blame, they used to under-bid to win jobs from competitors and then wouldn’t have enough money to finish the jobs.”

Carillon were awarded most of these jobs by various governments, both Labour and Tory. The outsourcing of public-sector work, to private contractors, policy favoured by Tony Blair has been a popular way of building new schools and hospitals ever since.

Jeremy Corbyn, who has remained vehemently opposed to private finance initiative’s (PFI’s) or so-called public-private partnerships today at PMQs said: “Carillion is not an isolated case and the system is broken.”

Corbyn asked why the warning signs were ignored, adding: “Over the last 6 months, the Government have awarded over £2bn worth of contracts to Carillion, it did so even after the share price was in free fall and when the company issued profit warnings.” Transport Secretary, Chris Grayling, insisted Carillion’s financial problems “were not an issue” after the company successfully acquired HS2 contracts last July.

Phillip Green, Carillion CEO, a Conservative party donor, and business adviser to David Cameron, is set to still receive a huge £700k salary, just like former boss Richard Howson, who left the company more than a year ago. It raises huge questions on the competency and transparency of this government, who has issued 3 profit warnings to Carillion yet kept giving them huge government contracts. Corruption in this administration clearly played a role in crisis the company and it’s workers now face.

Thousands of young student apprentices are among the many workers currently in limbo waiting for a decision on their future. Last night the BBC reported the story of a young apprentice, Kyle, who was sent home from college without any explanation.
Alan said: “I’ve been made redundant before and its never the big guys who feel the brunt. It’s the small guys out here working, the grafters.”

Several warning signs were ignored, and questions regarding the competency of this government must be tabled. Critics have increasingly argued huge government contracts, instead of being awarded to huge companies like Carillion, should be spilt between smaller providers. Though, the collapse of Carillion forces one to think whether private companies should be entrusted with our vital public services at all. Writing for The Independent earlier this year, Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, explained: “The privatisation of our public services has been national failure – it’s time to take back control.

“Labour will turn off the tap siphoning billions of pounds into shareholders’ pockets and ensure these vital services are run in the interests of the many, not the few.”

Momentum’s victory is triumph for democracy, not extremism

Yesterday Momentum gained 3 seats on Labour National executive conference. All 3 of their candidates gained over 60,000 votes to be elected to Labour’s NEC. It’s important to understand that whilst Momentum won all 3 seats, they in no way control the NEC, which still has a significant number of anti-Corbyn members. Yet The Evening Standard, in a continuing attempt from our right wing media to smear Momentum, ran the headline ‘Corbyn’s red army takeover complete’.

And whilst Corbyn’s grassroots support group clearly terrifies our ruling elite, the disinformation and outright lies spread about them frustrate me. They remain seen as radical and authoritarian, to me this just shows how much the Tories fear a group who have mastered both grassroots campaigning, but also the only section of the political establishment who have fully utilised social media. We have seen others try and copy their techniques, like Activate, unsuccessfully.

However most see them as a mob of intimidating socialists. The truth is, in policy at least, they are the most liberal section of the Labour Party. We have seen numerous attempts from top Tory politicians to paint Momentum as violent, most recently the new Conservative Party chairman. He challenged Corbyn to stand up to online abuse. This isn’t an honourable move to help decrease the abuse faced by MPs, it’s an attempt to paint Labour as the online mob who threaten and harass MPs. And whilst Labour, and Momentum, have some disgusting members who would threaten MPs across the aisle, the majority are normal yet passionate people. However the real truth is that if the Conservative Party want to stamp out online abuse they should start in their own back yard. In a recent survey conducted between the start of 2017 and June 8th, done by Amnesty, Labour MPs were on the receiving end of the majority of online abuse. The Tories ran in 3rd. Showing that Momentum, or Labour, are not the real problem.

The stats show the mob in UK politics, remains on the Right.
For those who have met Momentum members, and spoken to them about their aims, this won’t be a surprise. What I’ve witnessed from inside the Labour Party they have 2 clear, and very honourable aims.

The first, which they have been extremely successful in, is utilising social media, alongside the independent media, to help spread their message. They understood that with our right wing mainstream media they were never going to get Corbyn’s message out without a mouthpiece. However, unlike Blair who bowed to Murdoch, they went around the mainstream media and used the changing nature of how we get our media to get their message out through Facebook and Twitter. They are better at getting their message out than any other section of the Progressive movement, and that is the main reason they are a positive force for the Labour Party.

The second, is getting more party members involved, and getting their heard through a more democratic Labour Party. They continue to get more Labour Party members involved in grassroots campaigning. Training activists in canvassing. However their main driving ideology is to get Labour Party members voices heard. They want to close the divide in opinion between the membership and the Parliamentary party. They support the McDonnell Amendment, a policy to reduce the number of signatures needed to get a name on the ballot of the Labour leadership. They also support constituents choosing their candidate for MP. Many in the media have painted this as an attempt to de-select Blairites.However the policy is that of democracy. Allowing party members to choose who they want representing, not the leadership choosing for them.
Momentum may be painted as an extremist group but, when you look at their aims, all they want is democracy within the Labour Party.

We as consumers must hold the media to account

Last year I applied to volunteer at the annual Centre for London conference, a conference which aimed to bring together political thinkers, journalists and politicians for a day of debate on the future of London post-Brexit, as well as the potential effect of an incumbent Trump presidency.

As reward for participating and doing so free of pay I was able to watch and enjoy a number of speeches. One particular moment caught my imagination, David Milliband discussing with Sir Paul Collier how European cities should respond to the migrant crisis. When asked by a member of the audience what he thought of the influence of the right-wing media in this debate, David replied: “a politician should not criticise the media in the same way a seaman should not criticise the sea”, a quote believed to have been derived from Winston Churchill, although also attributed to notorious Enoch Powell. Though the media is a necessary part of political life, so do quotes such as this afford the established media a degree of liberty that is not deserved and also potentially dangerous?

The established media does not have to substantiate its claims. Claims are made consistently through National News Sources that depict a situation disproportionally or even outright false without being called upon for a significant amount of evidence. The Sun Newspaper was famously forced to admit an article stating one in five Muslims sympathised with Jihadists was significantly misleading with the poll framing ambiguous questions as sufficient evidence. The paper forced to accept it misled the public but this was the limit of repercussions and a story that had been presented in convenience stores and supermarkets nationwide was not obligated to give the same coverage to the fact it misled readers.

It is not merely the right-wing media who can be accused of misleading readers either, left-wing newspapers are just as entitled to make sweeping claims about the personalities and intentions of politicians on the basis of assumptions of their positions, often for example claiming the Conservative party want to privatise the NHS without necessarily producing examples of manifesto or policies pertaining to this. But the right-wing media do appear the most likely to print to the public without regard for how accurate or fair the claims are.

Furthermore, the media has an aggressive tendency to publicly shame individuals for reasons varying from their outspoken political beliefs, to just simply following the rule of law. For instance, Gary Lineker, ex-England international and Match of The Day. The Sun, wrongfully claimed Lineker was subject to widespread calls for resignation after he expressed his disdain for the racist nature of some right-wing papers coverage of the refugee crisis. The story, which was front-page news, was published in response to a sarcastic tweet from Lineker when a charity involved in the fostering of refugee children accused the paper of lying. The lie in question: that a picture posted, again on the front page of the paper, depicting an individual claiming to be a child refugee was a boy far too old to be a child refugee. The charity attempted to explain this by highlighting that it was not in fact a child refugee but an Arabic interpreter, but rather than using the next front page to verify their claims, they instead decided to attack Gary Lineker for being “jug-eared”.

This kind of journalism may seem to be a standard feature of tabloid journalism and the slander not immediately of serious moral concern. But then consider when the Daily Mail ran its infamous “enemies of the people” article. The article in question refers to the attempt by The Daily Mail and numerous other right-wing papers to publicly shame the judges responsible for declaring parliament must have a vote on whether or not the UK should leave the EU, attaining to the legal sovereignty of parliament. This refers not to an individual’s own political views but rather to them fulfilling their legal duty to apply the rule of law, and there is very little irony lost that the majority of the pro-Leave newspapers argued that it is this very sovereignty of law that we are trying to reclaim back from Europe.
The fear and the serious moral questions come when you consider what branding individuals “enemies of the people” truly means. In the run-up to the Brexit voting MP Jo Cox was tragically murdered for her political views concerning EU membership, the debate is clearly an emotionally charged one. Branding individuals in such a way is dangerous for the respective safety of the individuals involved. The lack of culpability of media outlets could be potentially career destroying or even potentially fatal, and yet our established media is allowed to express freely, and even when legal action is poised against the papers, there is still no restriction on what can be published in the future, merely financial reimbursement for the offended party.

But it is here that we reach the crux of the matter: freedom of press is essential in a functioning democracy. So, any limits and laws restricting the media are dangerous; countries that tend to regulate their national news are countries with an authoritarian ideology. So, what can be done to prevent the newspapers from publishing inaccurate articles, or articles that threaten the personal integrity and safety of individuals without undermining freedom of press? The answer almost definitely lies in the consumer. There needs to be a greater demand by the reader, who is a consumer of the product, to force newspapers to address their relationship with the truth. The law protects consumers from false advertising, the consumer protection from Unfair Trading Regulations prevents companies from misleading consumers via advertising. However, as the news is the product itself rather than the advertising of said product it is unclear that these regulations could be in anyway applicable.

The solution therefore has to come from the consumer. But this again hits a block when you consider that readers are consumers so they are likely to want to read what they want to hear, or at least to have their attention captured in a particular way. As of such, the established media appears entitled to mislead its consumers on the grounds that this is what the consumer is paying for. It is up to the reader to demand or seek better, but not a duty, hence, the media does not take moral responsibility. It is unclear whether it is possible at all to have an entirely honest and righteous media in an open and liberal society. We know the media should take moral responsibility but this cannot be imposed by law. The fact of the matter is we deserve better from our news. It is down to all of us to demand better, to refuse to succumb to “fake news” and gross misrepresentation, or risk living in the post-Truth world we appear to be falling into.

Instead of investing in the North, we have HS2 to help you get South quicker.

The government describe HS2 as a commitment to the North and to our regional economy. For those of us living in the North, this is refreshing news. Often, we just assume that Londoners think that everything above Watford is nothing more than a series of abandoned coal mines closed by Thatcher.

Though, the promotional material around HS2 gives me little faith that the project has escaped stereotypical conservative views however. For one, the YouTube video, produced by HS2, featured historic facts of how the railways mobilised the country in the 19th century. It is a classic criticism of conservatives for wanting to return Britain to the Golden, Imperial Age. But there is a more pressing issue than outdated mind-sets, and that is the project lacks serious understanding.

The Department of Transport’s executive summary of HS2, the lack of vision for the Northern economy becomes clear. In an almost comical sense, the summary features four photographs of Northern cities; Liverpool’s Docks, Salford’s Media City, Sunderland’s Software City and Sheffield’s Manufacturing Research Centre. HS2 has no plan to reach any ofthese cities.
The contradictions go even further when you look at the references The Department of Transport used to gather their information. For one, the CBI reference quoted in the summary also features a quote saying:

“… our report made a number of recommendations including a rethink of existing transport policy and a call to focus more on local road and rail projects, not just largenational schemes such as HS2.”

It then went on to reference the National Infrastructure Commission which stated:
“It takes longer to get from Liverpool to Hull by train than to travel twice the distance from London to Paris.

“Route decisions on the northern sections of HS2 … should support enhanced high‑ speed connections within the north, including between Leeds ‑Sheffield, Liverpool‑Manchester, and Sheffield-Newcastle.” (HS2 has no plan to go to Sheffield, Liverpool or Newcastle)

Both references show that the issue is a lack of infrastructure between Northern cities and local communities. To get from my home town of Wigan to Cheshire would take me over 2hours and 3 trains. Yet the Department of Transport has stated Cheshire is a key town for the Northwest’s financial, energy and chemical industries. A key town that I cannot commute to directly via any method of public transport.

The ‘what Liverpool can offer you’ referenced by the HS2 summary praised the convenient transport connections between Liverpool and London that already exist. The same report shows the lack of transport links across the North. Liverpool to Sheffield takes the same amount of time by train or car, and Liverpool to Hull takes an hour longer by train than car. These are major cities, if you live in a small town you will have to factor in busses or walking into the city to get the right train.

The plan for the Northwest includes how HS2 will cut down on commuter times, however in every example the traveller is travelling south, either to Birmingham or London. There is no example of how much quicker it will get from west to east, and that’s because HS2 does not plan on commuters going west to east.

The idea is to link London to the north in the hope that industry will flow from the capital up North. But the reality will be that business will expect employees to commute further. There is no connect of industry to the north, but a connection of the Northern workforce to London’s industry, feeding the brain-drain issue that HS2 is attempting to fix.

What is worrying about the project is that it relies on a laisse-faire attitude that business will react. If the government places the rail down, the business will travel north. Therefore, there is no need to invest in northern industry, the industry will grow on its own. It is an echo of Victorian Britain, where rail is sacred and the best help is self-help.

Growing up in the North, people around me often felt abandoned or negated by their government, and it’s a hard feeling to argue with. The project marketed as developing the north opens with: “London is one of the greatest global cities. It will remain so, but we have to ensure that it does not become a victim of its own success.”

I know southerners think it is grim up North, but being able to get down South quicker is not going to cheer us up.

Labour must listen to its heartland’s about immigration

For most socialists, freedom of movement is the dream. From some who wish to see a world without borders to those who reject the idea that somebody can be an illegal immigrant, it’s not unusual to hear the claim that, to be a socialist, one must be a supporter of an individual’s rights to go wherever they want in the world without barrier.

This is a lie.

One intrinsic principle of freedom of movement is that somebody can work in whatever territory: they simply need to cross over the border and set up camp. This has been a great advantage to our British NHS, with foreign nationals moving to our country in order to work as doctors, nurses, and health-care practitioners. It would take a particularly hard person to deny that this has not been a benefit to our country, and the people living in it.

But let’s look beyond that. Let’s look to the estimated 872,000 Eastern Europeans working in Britain in low-skilled jobs. What we have done, by accepting freedom of movement, is to declare to people ‘come into our country all you like because we’ll give you the jobs we don’t want.’ What this individual, with hopes and dreams and family and friends, becomes is a piece of transferrable capital. How on earth can any socialist support a system whereby somebody is valued on the basis of their economic productivity?

Of course, it is not just the foreign national worker who is affected by this. When one group of people become a piece of convenient capital, there is nothing stopping the indigenous population from undergoing a similar transformation. From zero-hour contracts to companies that pay the minimum wage (which, as we all know, is no living wage), the people of Britain are consistently being undercut by bosses who care about nothing other than profit.

There is, naturally, a cultural element to this too. Rather than full integration, what we see instead is various cultures living side-by-side. After all, the new foreign workers are not valued by the culture so why should they value it? For the middle-class socialists there is no problem here. But for the working class of Britain this is not simply a theoretical problem: it is a concern that cuts right to the core of community

Blue Labour, a campaign group that believes in regaining the working-class vote through consideration of certain socially conservative ideas, has rightly highlighted the strain that immigration puts on community. Community, after all, is a form of solidarity, and solidarity is at the core of the working-class identity and at the core of socialist principles. But when the nature of the community changes, the group identity splinters, and real problems arise.

These are neither racist nor xenophobic ideas. This is simply an acknowledgement that, as a result of freedom of movement, the condition of workers has changed either economically or socially. The solution is really quite simple: call for a definite end to freedom of movement, and change immigration laws so as to admit workers into the country that are required for high-skilled jobs. From there, we can work on holding to account so-called ‘fat cat’ bosses.

The problem, naturally enough, is that this would be unlikely to happen. Why? On the one hand, we have the group of capitalists who have no problem with exploiting workers to get a larger pay packet every month. They have no incentive to change the system. And, on the other hand, we have the most prominent socialist voices of our times. These are middle-class people who claim to speak for the working-class, yet dismiss their concerns and anxieties over migrant labour.

May relaunch reshuffle fails to take off

It was meant to be the reshuffle which re-launched Theresa May as a Prime Minister with authority and ideas for the domestic policy agenda. Instead it has simply reminded everyone that she’s running an unstable government and continues to have to agree with the last person she spoke to in order to stay in power.

It didn’t start well when Tory HQ incorrectly Tweeted that Chris Grayling had been appointed as Tory Party Chair, only for the post to go to Brandon Lewis. When it was put to Lewis that the party was in a mess the only response he could muster was “not quite”.
The Jeremy Hunt, the calamitous Health Secretary currently overseeing the worst winter crisis in NHS history went to see May to be demoted, but left with social care added to his portfolio having refused to budge. Another who refused to be demoted was Justine Greening, who chose instead to leave government completely.

The core team running the government remain in place with May too weak to move Boris Johnson, David Davis, Amber Rudd or even Philip Hammond. There are some younger faces coming into government at lower levels, but these MPs will largely be lobby-fodder as every vote will be needed to steer the rest of the Brexit legislation through Parliament.

The success of the reshuffle was perhaps best summed up by George Osborne in his editorial for the Evening Standard “you have to hand it to this Prime Minister: she’s given us the hat-trick of worst reshuffle, the worst party conference speech and the worst manifesto in modern history”.

The Cabinet is now whiter, more male, more privately educated and more based in the South-East than it was on Monday morning. Far from reaching out and bringing in new talents May has instead gone back to the Tory comfort zone when it comes to sits around the top table.

The real problem with this government isn’t who they have sitting round the cabinet table, but the fact that they continue to pursue a programme of austerity which has brought public services to their knees and given us a lost decade of wage stagnation.

May’s cabinet now shapes up as shown below:

Putin’s purpose in Syria

In December, President Putin made a surprise visit to the Russian military base in Syria and announced the withdrawal of Russian forces from the country. The BBC reported that Putin’s visit was to bring the word of ‘victory’ to the front line. Russian troops could now return to their families, knowing that they had defeated ISIS and defended the Assad regime. But what has Putin really achieved in Syria?

Understanding Russia’s achievements is Syria requires an understanding of the Kremlin’s motivation. Russia has supported the Assad regime since 2011, providing diplomatic support by vetoing UN resolutions. In 2015, Russia increased its support by embarking on a campaign of airstrikes against groups that the Kremlin defined as ‘terrorist’.

The timing of this extended commitment is significant to understanding why Russia has become so involved in the Syrian conflict. In September of that year, world leaders met at the 70th UN General Assembly to discuss global affairs. During the assembly, Putin and Obama met privately to discuss the crisis in Syria.
At the time, the western world strongly called for the removal of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The United State even went as far as to publicly lay the Syrian conflict at the feet of Assad’s regime: ‘Assad reacted to peaceful protest by escalating repression and killing and in turn created the environment for the current strife’.

Russia’s support for Assad, therefore, became a big bargaining chip, and one which Putin intended to use during the 70th UN General Assembly. Putin was prepared to withdraw support from the Assad Regime, in return for NATO’s support being withdrawn from the Ukrainian conflict. A conflict which interfered much closer with the Russian sphere of interest.

The meeting between Obama and Putin orchestrated to be a trade-off; Syria for Ukraine. This never happened however. Following the meeting, both leaders came out publicly blaming eachother for escalating the crisis in Syria.
Despite the Kremlin’s gamble not paying off, Russia has still been able to gain from the Syrian conflict. The conflict is testimony to the re-establishment of Russia’s global status. Putin has taken a step towards the ‘superpower’ title previously held by the Soviet Union.

Russian has demonstrated its ability to rival the US by rejuvenating its relations with Iran. Just months before the 2015 air-strikes, Iran brokered a nuclear deal with the US, limiting Russian influence in Tehran. The US has admitted to being unable to break the relationship between Russia and Iran. The Syrian conflict has been an opportunity for the two nations to work closely on military operations. Indeed the cooperation in Syria has become a symbol of the Russian-Iranian relationship.

Putin has been diplomatically victorious in maintaining his alliance with Iran, despite U.S. intervention. This alone is an example of how far Russia has come in terms of global power status. Additionally, Moscow has reshaped the frontlines of the Syrian conflict. With Russian support, Assad now holds major areas such as Palmyra, Raqqa and Aleppo. The conflict is evidence that Russia is now capable of effectively performing military operations outside of its own borders.

The effective impact of the Russian military has boosted Russia’s arms industry. Syria is a showcase for Russian military technology, and has been defined as a ‘perfect commercial for Russian arms producers’. Going forwards, Russia will be able to expand its arms deals with new parties.

Ultimately, Syria is still a nation torn by war and terror. But the actual conflict has always been secondary to Putin’s goals. What initially began as a bargaining chip has turned into one of Putin’s highest paying investments in recent years. Russia has proven its might in both diplomatic and military terms. As the BBC reported, Putin has been able to ‘force world leaders to deal with Russia’. In this sense, Russian troops can now return home knowing they have been victorious, even with the war going on in their absence.

Eritrea: The Forgotten Crisis

With civil war, abject poverty, and millions displaced under the umbrella President Afwerki’s political tyranny, Eritrea is symbolic as the crisis for which the world stood idly by. Ranked 164th in the 2016 Corruption Perception Index, Eritrean civilians must live life trapped in the sphere of the one party state, with suppression of all political opposition since Afwerki seized power in 1993. Detention without trial and forced labour camps lie in wait for political dissenters, creating a culture of fear that encourages loyalty to the ruling party, the PFDJ. Yet despite the injustice of this economic and humanitarian turmoil, Eritrea remains invisible in conventional Western media; a forgotten crisis of the 4.5 million people on the Eastern Horn of Africa, with little sign that the end is near.

The Eritrean economy has ground to a halt under the protectionist nationalism of the ruling party, evident by the 50% poverty rate that is forecast to increase as the crisis deepens. The nation has long been a bastion of the self-reliant autarchic doctrine, originating from it’s 30 year war of independence from Ethiopia, when all resources were produced in underground factories. This ideology has permeated into the Eritrean economy, contradicting Ricardian economic theory of mutual benefits from trade. The economy has been stifled by the lack of resources, contributing to the 53% rate of malnutrition in the country.

The haunt of such self-reliance persistence has a further hold on the military situation. Unlike the situation in other African warring states such as The Democratic Republic of the Congo, where UN peacekeeping troops are a common sight, cruising the forests in their armoured vehicles, such external aid is a rare occurrence in Eritrea. Their steadfast dedication to believing in their own abilities through rejection of foreign help is slowly crippling the country, prolonging the civil war that has already left 12% of its population as refugees. 5,000 Eritreans embark on the perilous journey through the desert each month to escape the oppressive regime. The risk of falling into the hands of human traffickers in conjunction with the dangerous sea crossing is evidence of the desire to escape the country; a betrayal of the independence cause that they fought so hard to achieve.

Yet the government’s lock on personal freedoms is perhaps the greatest sorrow from Eritrea’s crisis. The lack of Western media coverage is partly a result of Eritrea’s closure to foreign media outlets, creating a secretive police state where prisons are “overflowing”, in a report by American Ambassador Ronald McMullen. Months of negotiation with the central government were needed for the BBC to gain access to Eritrea for a documentary. Thus, the traditional argument of the political gravity effect may not hold; it is not Western media’s reluctance to focus on Africa and preference for the affairs of similar developed nations that is the cause of the low coverage, but the restrictions imposed by the African nation itself.

Eritrea is plummeting towards its doom as the Western world remains in oblivion. Whilst we enjoy the peace, civil liberties and economic freedom of the developed world, Eritrea languishes in poverty with barely a reference in our daily media. This is a dangerous situation for the future of Mr Afwerki’s state; reluctance to accept financial and humanitarian aid could precipitate further outflows of refugees fleeing the fighting and political constraints. Eritrea’s future hangs in the balance; yet the Western world barely knows it.