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E pluribus unum

“Patriotism has become a dirty word to some and a nostalgic exercise for others. For many on the left, it is a problematic concept, seen as the gateway to jingoism, nationalism and arrogance. For the right it is equated with outdated symbols of Britishness like the battle of Trafalgar and the Union Jack.” (‘A Place for Pride’, Demos)

Unquestionably, patriotism is somewhat of an enigma in modern Britain. Talk of a collective British identity always seems vague, and across the political spectrum there has been and continues to be widespread failure articulating the concept.

In response to this ongoing identity crisis, last week saw the publication of Demos’ ‘A Place for Pride’, in which a case is made for a reinvigorated notion of patriotism. This approach criticises the left and right alike and calls for a rejection of the traditional top-down approach that has dominated the discourse on the subject in Britain, instead advocating a bottom-up, localised patriotism from which a modern conception could grow.

As a Briton and someone who would consider himself far from a patriot, the nature of this study is thought-provoking by its very definition. A blind faith in the NHS and the BBC are about as pro-Britain as I get (the 2010 World Cup killed off my one other patriotic impulse). However, these bastions of Britishness are not nearly enough to orientate an entire identity around. If patriotism is to be accepted as good and worthwhile it should be emotively felt. With this in mind, Demos’ conclusions regarding the attitudes of the left towards patriotism flag up some undeniable truths.

“They fear the consequences of patriotism – which they see as chauvinism, racism and bigotry. They fear the right, more comfortable with unthinking patriotism, will manipulate this powerful emotion to render populist havoc. They fear that patriotism is necessarily conservative and that, without their own story to tell about nation and pride, they will be left behind.”

It would be naive to deny that Labour and the left have faced problems with the very notion of patriotism. Is it compatible with our message? Where do we fit into patriotism? Is it even good? For many years the left hasn’t known the answer to these questions and it speaks volumes that the now defunct ‘Blue Labour’ mantra contained a rethink on patriotism. But, this problem is not unique to the left and the study similarly highlights the equally problematic vision spurred on by the right.

“Those on the right have got it wrong too: they think patriotism means adherence to a set of institutions, historical narratives and deference to certain manifestations of the mystic nation.”

With the right’s symbols of Britishness being “too brittle and too fixed”and “non-negotiable”, the idea that the right wraps nationalistic feeling in history is clear, this is dissociated with contemporary society and also requires a highly improbable connection to be established between newer generations and the past.

While focusing on the right, there is arguably a vocal element who see Britishness as something inextricably linked to empire. Look no further than the rife eurosceptism currently dominating aspects of the media and political landscape. The European project is seen as anti-British and an unwelcome intrusion on the British way of life. But, in reality basing patriotism in history and age-old institutions shows an unwillingness to accept the flexibility of identity and undervalues the changing nature of Britain.

This explains why Cameron’s vague ‘Big Society’ is not only deeply flawed but based on ill-informed assumptions. In order for a ‘Big Society’ to emerge and subsequently develop people have to first believe that there is an identity worth investing in. Demos’ report argues currently this isn’t the case. Perhaps, in an ironic turn of events, there is an argument to be made that the occupy movements, the student protests and even the riots, supposed symbols of societal breakdown, are the most together Britons have been in collective action for some time. If taken as true, this is a disaster. Anti-state sentiments, or a backlash against the state, should not formulate the basis of togetherness. As a result of this failure, it’s fair to claim pride, place and patriotism in their current forms simply aren’t connecting with a state under strain, or one unsure of its own identity. This has been the case for longer than the political establishment dare to admit and it’s for this very reason Demos’ argument for a bottom-up patriotism is compelling.

“No longer can we begin at the top and work our way down; instead we must start at the bottom, in the day-to-day sentiment of people’s lives, and work our way upwards and outwards to determine the best symbols, ideas and institutions to represent and bolster that sentiment.”

“Instead you must be prepared to engage in the hard and unpredictable graft of building the framework and infrastructure to support patriotism and pride as it grows; you must consider it as a means, an end and a metric in what you do elsewhere; and you must devolve responsibility for building it to a local level,where experience can be delivered to facilitate its growth.”

It’s hard not to laud Demos’ conclusions. It’s been a long held personal belief that a singular national identity is implausible. I’m a young man living in Greater London, people across the country, whether they live in rural Yorkshire, Cornwall or Merseyside, do not experience life the way I do.  While far from an ideal comparison and somewhat of a simplification, you only need to look Stateside to see a perfect example of identity being left to the individual to see the merits of this approach. Fair enough America is a far larger geographical space, with a codified constitution as a tie that binds, but being American is a broader more all-encompassing concept than being British. In fact, as Demos identify ‘Britishness’ has been far too rigid, resistant to change and grounded in false notions of togetherness. This simply doesn’t work.  Remove this fallacy and you are left with the local, the people you pass everyday, work with, interact with, these individuals shape your feelings towards your community. If this was left to grow and articulate itself, a community of communities could entrench a sense of pride which has long vacated this small island.

Kitchener's infamous war cry seems more outdated than ever.

Due to this, there is nothing wrong with choosing to identify myself first and foremost as a Londoner. This is not to say I regard myself as a separate entity superior to other Britons, but I think we can choose to define ourselves based on our emotions and have pride in these identities, which in turn makes a form of societal pride more likely to develop. Some would no doubt argue that localism is a strange bedfellow for patriotism, as it would seem to lend itself to tribalism. But surely it’s exponentially better to have individuals feel proud of their local area and interact with their community rather than have individuals who are completely disconnected to both their local and national identity.

“Patriotism is not unique or discrete – it is formed of, grows out of and influences more localised forms of public pride. People who take pride in their day-to-day lives, who appreciate their community and are proud of it, are more likely to feel predisposed to pride in Britain as a whole.”

Considering this, it’s vital for the political establishment to embrace this re-imagining of patriotism. Certainly feeling pride in your local area is a necessary building block of patriotism, the foundations if you will, and if encouraged will most likely lead to an increased notion of oneness through localism. In fact, maybe if this mantra is embraced, one day this Londoner and many other people across the country will find themselves bowled over with sentiments for Queen and country.

Kenneth Way.


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Ciao Berlusconi!

It was through a narrow and discrete door that Italy’s longest serving PM, Silvio Berlusconi, left the presidential palace late Saturday night to the chants of “hallelujah!” from protestors that had gathered to celebrate his resignation. After a high profile career that has controversially shaped Italy’s political landscape, the self styled “Il cavaliere” (the Knight) may have hung up his armour – yet his legacy leaves behind a nation that is edging closer to the precipice, amidst crippling debts and a society that has lost faith in its political class.

Heralded as an “outsider”, the self-made media tycoon was considered by many Italians in the early 1990s as a credible alternative to what may saw as a corrupt, clientelist and uninspiring political system. Casting himself as a moderniser and reformer who would bring about an “economic miracle” – Berlusconi’s legacy could not have been any further from the truth.

Reaction to the news of Berlusconi’s resignation.

Economic regression

Statistically, Italian debt currently stands at €1.9 trillion, at 120% of its annual GDP (the third most indebted nation in the “developed” world); with lending rates dangerously touching the 7% mark, a level at which lending is seen as unsustainable, and where a bail-out – in the image of Greece, Ireland and Portugal – may eventually become a reality. In the decade leading to 2010, only Haiti and Zimbabwe were ranked as having lower growth, with Italian GDP per head actually regressing. As well as this, Italy’s ageing population is a cause for concern in the context of growth forecasts, more than a quarter of young people are unemployed – a figure that rises to 40% in the south. Moreover, low productivity rates and high wages took haven taken their toll on competitiveness and job creation: whereas productivity rose by a fifth in the US and a tenth in Britain in the last ten years, Italy saw its production rate fall by 5%. It comes as no surprise that Italy is ranked 80th in the World Bank’s “Doing Business” index, below Belarus and Mongolia, and currently stands in 48th place in the World Economic Forum’s competitiveness rankings, behind Indonesia and Barbados.

Earlier this month, amidst market volatility, Berlusconi’s government performance over the Eurozone crisis came under close scrutiny from the IMF and European counterparts at the G20 summit in Cannes. Whilst many economists believed that Italy’s position was “markedly worse” than Spain, the IMF and European Union promptly dispatched observers and audit officers to Rome – a humiliating step for Europe’s third largest economy. In response, and to the stupefaction of many Italians, Berlusconi stated that life in Italy was that of a “wealthy country, it’s hard to find seats on planes, and our restaurants are full of people”.

Despite Berlusconi’s initial efforts to shrug off such procedure as a mere audit at a time of difficulty, IMF boss, Christine Lagarde, summarised the gravity of the situation as “identified both by the Italian authorities and by its partners, as a lack of credibility of the measures that are announced.” Or in other words, the lack of credibility in both Mr Berlusconi and his capability to deliver necessary measures.

Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy answering questions on Berlusconi.

With 51 votes of confidence in his government since 2008 and four ongoing trials – Berlusconi’s credibility, or lack of it, was not confined to the economy. For Andrea Mammone, the media-mogul’s “mediaitsation” of politics eventually became a “one-man-show centered on the increasingly-absurd figure of Berlusconi”. The high profile “bunga-bunga” sex scandals, along with police investigations into allegations of fraud, to the increasingly hard-line proposals to stop wiretapping, changes in juvenile prostitution laws, – projected the image of a “banana republic” in which a modern democracy could be run as a personal business entity. The promotion of showgirls and actresses into parliament, government and even as party candidates in regional elections, cultivated the macho and openly sexist portrayal of Berlusconi, whom in April 2011 joked “When asked if they would like to have sex with me, 30% of women said, ‘Yes’, while the other 70% replied, ‘What, again?’.”

It’s unsurprising to say that over the years, Berlusconi lost credibility both at home and abroad. Yet in the end it wasn’t his relationship with juvenile prostitutes, his eccentrics, allegations of corruption, nor his prolific contempt for the judiciary and the judges that were after him. In the end, the man who promised that he would deliver a “new economic miracle” – was finally brought down to earth by his failure to make the Italian economy grow.

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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As Europe resolves its future, Britain returns to its past

Yesterday, as heads of the seventeen eurozone nations met to grind out a resolution to the ongoing crisis plaguing European markets, the commencement of the Commonwealth Summit served to underline the UK’s position as all too willing political outsiders.

In fact, this week the UK has once again proven to be the awkward partner of Europe, completely out of touch with its counterparts and almost guilty of displaying an ‘I told you so’ attitude towards the tumultuous plight of the eurozone, puzzlingly nonchalant towards the interconnectedness of European economies, including its own.

Jose Manuel Barrosso emerging from the eurozone talks in Brussels

Not happy with missing out on the vital talks, earlier in the week, the Commons held a debate on Britain’s future membership of the EU. In principle, considering the public’s general attitude towards EU membership coupled with the negative attitudes held across the political spectrum by mainstream MPs and backbenchers alike, this is a wholly plausible debate. However, the timing seemed so ill-advised and genuinely unhelpful to the rest of Europe it defied belief.

Then comes the Commonwealth Summit in Chogm, Perth. Despite the wishes of those who look wistfully back to the days of colonial Britain, the Commonwealth, while undoubtedly an important historical tie, is not the way for the UK to thrust itself into political significance and certainly not the answer to the current economic crisis engulfing the nation. Unlike the ‘glorious’ past, the EU are now the UK’s predominant trading partners and the fact that our Prime Minister was in Perth debating changes to the monarchy rather than being involved in discussions vital to the future of that organisation’s economic wellbeing is frankly embarrassing.

Now, regardless of the debate over the continued existence of the monarchy, the decision to finally make amendments to the laws of succession is a welcome one. In our times, it’s odd that men should still succeed to the throne in favour of their older sisters. But this is so miniscule an issue at this time, that it’s just plain bizarre that Britain, a country that regards itself so focal to the international political and economic system, has spent such an important week on the sidelines of Europe, a main centre of power, choosing to instead focus on re-evaluating its position as an EU member before switching its attention to the Commonwealth.

Queen Elizabeth II's coronation.

Arguably, the root source of the eurosceptism that blights the British discourse on the EU is founded on a superiority complex dating back to our nation’s colonial past. Since the end of WWII this has not been the case, but yet critics and the public hark on convinced that this relatively small isle is still the powerful nation it once was. A nation’s pride so damaged by its own fall that instead of accepting its position within the world order, consecutive governments have moved us along in blissful ignorance of our re-orientation. Unlike the Commonwealth, Europe is the real opportunity to prove significant in the 21st century and once again the UK has proven to be a step out of sync. It remains to be seen whether this will come back to haunt us in the coming years, as the pound looks increasingly weak and the eurozone perhaps grows once more.

Kenneth Way.

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Canon Giles Fraser resigns: A victim of his own morality?

Today, amid fears that the church would work alongside the Corporation of London to forcibly remove protestors from the Occupy London Stock Exchange site (OLSX), Reverend Giles Fraser resigned from his position as Canon of St Paul’s Cathedral.

Speaking in The Guardian, the ex-Canon said, “I cannot support using violence to ask people to clear off the land. It is not about my sympathies or what I believe about the camp. I support the right to protest and in a perfect world we could have negotiated. But our legal advice was that this would have implied consent.”

Ex-Canon Giles Fraser outside the OLSX site.

Despite backing his peers in asking for protestors to leave the site, Fraser’s belief in the right to protest coupled with his refreshing talk of conscience seems almost alien in this political climate. Here is a man acting according to his own code, absent of the trappings of careerism or financial gain. In fact, it speaks volumes that in contrast to Fraser’s actions, a main concern of St Paul’s bigwigs during the protest has been the loss of up to £20,000 a day since the occupation began last week.

To counter any cynics less enamoured by Fraser, he can hardly be labelled an opportunistic headline grabber. The reverend has based his career on decency. Ordained in 1993, Fraser was a founder of Inclusive Church, a group campaigning for the full recognition of gay lifestyles. As well as this, as the rest of the church fretted over the gay issue, in 2008 Fraser welcomed the world’s first openly gay Anglican Bishop, the Right Reverend Gene Robinson, to preach in his church. Unfortunately, void of Fraser’s decency, the church banned the reverend from attending a special church conference on the issue.

Putting his credentials to one side, there is a poignant irony about the resignation of Giles Fraser. With the clear PR crisis facing the modern day church in Britain, people like Giles Fraser offer the church a real opportunity to break itself from the negative perceptions so commonly spouted from the mouths of non-believers. In many ways, the true tragedy of this situation is that Giles Fraser has been forced to stand down as a result of a conflict between his personal beliefs and his role in the church. As a result of a protest against the moral bankruptcy of the banks, an honest man has somewhat inevitably become a victim.

Support the Facebook campaign to save Giles Fraser.

Ex-Canon Giles Fraser speaking on BBC News.

Kenneth Way.

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Rebels with a cause: Cameron faces party friction as EU sceptics resurface

Despite imposing a three line whip on yesterday’s vote on a possible EU referendum, 81 Tory MPs rebelled against David Cameron, in what was the biggest rebellion to face his premiership so far.

In fact, according to claims made by Conservative Party insiders earlier this week, as many as two thirds of Conservative MPs are in favour of renegotiating the UK’s member status within the EU. Whilst commentators and observers have debated the decision to order a three line whip on the vote, there is little doubt that the vote has inflicted considerable damage on Cameron’s relations with Tory backbenchers amidst what the BBC’s Ed Stourton says is the most “Eurosceptic Conservative Party in history.”

While, the motion was widely expected to be defeated, with both Labour and Lib Dem MPs voting against, an ICM/Guardian poll has shown that 70% of voters were in favour of a vote over Britain’s EU membership: 49% said they would favour a withdrawal, whilst 40% said they would prefer to remain. Such figures suggest a complete turnaround in British opinion vis-a-vis the EU – a similar ICM poll conducted in 2001 indicated that only 19% were said to be in favour of an EU withdrawal, in comparison to the 68% of respondents who felt that Britain should retain EU membership.

The repatriation of “sovereign powers” from Brussels to London has long been desired by many within the ranks of the Conservative government – exemplified by Teresa May’s view of axing European Convention for Human Rights – but in spite of this the proposals backing an outright withdrawal have been described by prominent Eurosceptic and foreign secretary William Hague, as being potentially damaging to the UK’s economic recovery, and simply the “wrong question to ask at a wrong time.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg MP challenging David Cameron on the EU.

roughsociety’s final word
In a country where 83% have admitted to having little or no knowledge about the EU’s institutions or inner workings, friction over EU membership is not a new phenomenon. In the British political landscape immigration, crime, the outsourcing of “British jobs”, Thatcher’s rebate – have all fallen under the ongoing question of the extent of Brussels’ jurisdiction. Regardless of this, it’s the Eurozone conundrum that has brought about a vehement backbench rebellion. As Hague rightly notes, Britain disembarking the EU ship is out of the question; not only for the sake of the UK economy, but also perhaps in the interest of remaining in the world’s largest trading bloc. That said, a referendum over the transfer of powers from Brussels to London (all the while retaining membership) could prove one of Cameron’s best hands in fending of rebellion, and one that would be more in line with government policy.

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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‘Eureca project’ to solve Eurozone crisis?

Earlier this week, German consultancy group Roland Berger unveiled its strategy for combating the troublesome Eurozone crisis.

Presented as a ‘viable and credible’ alternative, Eureca inspires itself from the Trust Agency (Treuhandanstalt) that set about restructuring the obsolete East German economy in the immediate aftermath of German unification in 1990 – and consequently leading to the privatisation of 8,500 industrial and business assets in Eastern Germany alone. Yet akin to the Treuhand’s controversial legacy, Le Monde correspondant Charlotte Chabas questions the controversial impact of such an ‘aaudacious’ plan, notably on the issue of safeguarding Greece’s sovereignty.

It says it all itself.

The plan

‘Eureca’ would initially consist of transferring Greece’s public assets (estimated to total €125 billion) – from state property, telecommunications, banks, to ports, airports and highways – within a European holding firm financed by EU member states, who would then proceed in retaining or the outright selling off of such resources.

From here, the generated funding from such sales would, in principle, enable the Greek state to reimburse its lenders and theoretically reduce its current debt/GDP ratio of 145%, to 60% by 2025. Roland Berger highlight that this would not only drastically cut interest rates on loans, but also re-inject money into the Greek state through investment and the creation of an estimated 250,000 jobs.

Should things go to plan, this would result in Greece coming within European stability pact guidelines (concerning public debt) by 2025, and reducing aggressively market speculations on Greek, Italian, Irish or Spanish defaults – thus not only permitting the reintroduction of economic growth in Greece, but also safeguarding the stability of the Eurozone.

Whilst members of the ‘Troika’ (IMF, European Central Bank and European Commission) have formally ruled out all talks of mass ‘transfers’ of Greece’s public structures, La Tribune financial expert François Roche argues that it is ‘very likely’ that such ‘plans’ were concocted within Angela Merkel’s entourage and with the European Commission’s expert approval.

roughsociety’s final word

In the face of nervous European markets and a stagnating Eurozone – whilst not forgetting Germany’s cynicism over its role in the current bail outs – it seems that Europe is left with a decision; whether to expel Greece from the Eurozone and see it implode, or continue with its costly and unaffordable bailouts. Furthermore, it would be all too easy to forget that much uncertainty looms over the cases of Italy and Spain. Whilst ‘Eureca’ may well become an unprecedented reality, it is one that the Troika will feel as being a case of selling the furniture in order to save the house.

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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Troy Davis and the death penalty: the tale of flawed justice

Having spent twenty years behind bars and faced down 3 execution dates for the murder in 1989 of an off-duty police officer, Mark MacPhail – Troy Davis was executed on the night of the 21 September 2011.

Troy Davis.

Anti-death penalty campaigners, along with the European Union’s high commissioner have expressed “deep regrets” in what was a symbolic case in the continuing efforts to abolish capital punishment in the remaining states of the Union.

Yet the significant factor in the Troy Davis saga was undoubtedly the controversies that enshrouded the initial trial; flawed ballistic tests, non-existent DNA links to incriminate Davis, combined with the fact that out of the 9 original witnesses, 7 would later go on to retract their testimony and claim that they were subjected to police and judicial pressure, were indicative of a judicial vengeance that sought to act swiftly and repressively. Former convict now turned journalist, Erwin James argues that in a system of elected judges, combined with mass media interest, there is bound to be a level of pressure exerted on both lawyers and judges in protecting and serving their interest – yet when justice becomes driven by emotion rather than reason, where does one draw the fine line between vengeance and justice? It is men who make the justice system work, and like all men, they sometimes make mistakes.

From his years of incarceration to his last moments before execution – Davis continued to maintain his claims of innocence, which according to prison psychologist Steve Gassian, “Is incredibly difficult to maintain and repeat your innocence over the years, especially when you are guilty”.

Image from an 'I am Troy Davis' vigil.

For the Campaign to End the Death Penalty (CEDP), capital punishment in the US condemns the innocent to die – “the use of plea bargains and leniency in exchange for snitch testimony often results in the least guilty serving the most time. Often, police and prosecutors—-whether under pressure or in the effort to further their careers-—make quick arrests and ignore evidence that might point in another direction.”

The conviction and execution of a black man in the southern state of Georgia is, for the campaigners of the CEDP, a confirmation of the relationship between capital punishment, institutional racism and poverty; or put it bluntly, “capital punishment is racist”. While, African Americans constitute 12% of the total American population, 42% of death row inmates are black, this figure rises anywhere between 50-60% in states including North Carolina, Virginia, Mississippi, and Ohio.

Map of Executions 1608-2001 – The Guardian

Stephen Bright, author of “Neither Equal, Neither Just” argues that such trends are inextricably linked to poverty; 90% of defendants charged with capital crimes are not able to afford an experienced lawyer. For Bright, a major flaw of the system is that, “Good lawyers are a luxury, and many are reluctant or financially incapable or unwilling to defend ‘the poor’. As a result, the lawyers tasked to do so, are often overworked, inexperienced or overwhelmed.”

Furthermore, statistics have shown that the death penalty held no impact on crime rate. In fact, although 80% of executions take place in the Southern states, the “South” continues to have a higher murder rate than the North. In a study conducted by Thorsten Sellin on the patterns of crime in relation to the usage of the Death Penalty between 1989 and 2002 in California (1 death) Texas (239 executions) and New York (0) concluded in finding similar patterns of crime rates, with Death Penalty Champions Texas holding a slightly higher overall average figure.

roughsociety’s final word

Whether or not the United States will ever see a constitutional ban on the death penalty remains to be seen. In its report dedicated to the execution of Troy Davis, Foreign Policy ranked the world’s “top executioners” in accordance to the number of convicts executed per annum. Amongst the regulars, the United States stood as the only “western” and “democratic” nation to execute prisoners at a level that is on par with the likes of North Korea, China, Iran and Yemen.

For more- Death penalty statistics, country by country (The Guardian)

Death penalty statistics from the US: which state executes the most people? (The Guardian)

Sanders Arampamoorthy.

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