What does charity mean to you? Is it giving when there’s nothing left to give or delivering a portion of funds dedicated to improving lives in more disadvantaged areas of the world? But what happens when scandal erupts, muddying established reputations for giving and disrupting their operations? You often get an amalgamation of finger-pointing and outrage without much in the way of in-depth discussion.
Soon after the Oxfam scandal, allegations also sprang up against Brendan Cox, very much a resulting factor of the #MeToo movement which exploded in 2017. The first allegation came from a filing in 2015 in which Brendan was alleged to have sexually assaulted a woman at Harvard University in the United States; he was never charged for this, but more details eventually surfaced regarding inappropriate behaviour in his time at the Save the Children charity. In an admittance of guilt, Brendan Cox recently stepped down from his posts, stating: “I want to apologise deeply and unreservedly for my past behaviour and for the hurt and offence that I have caused”. Cox’s behaviour is hard to believe at first glance but simultaneously it is vastly disappointing to see someone expected to represent honest and progressive interests take such a drastic downturn in values. He does his family, particularly his wife Jo, an immense disservice with these deeds and will likely not work for the charity sector again. The controversy didn’t stop there as later the man in charge of Save the Children, Justin Forsyth, also resigned due to quote: “unsuitable and thoughtless texts to female staff”
Both scandals point to the notion of “trial by media”, a point in which the media and online discussion ends up deciding for the masses how guilty an organisation or person is, thereby setting the tone and direction of the conversation before any civil debate can take place. This paradox of charity work against unsavoury behaviour from those at the top speaks to several debates including power and position and the way we react to such scandals. Politics inevitably seeps into the scene; type in #Oxfam or #BrendanCox into Twitter and you’ll find a maelstrom of rage coming from the right wing, with the vitriol being directed at a single person more often than not. This raises another question; do we question how and why charity went wrong or vilify absolutely the organisations and the people who run them? I disagree with the latter; while the cliché of “a few bad apples” may reflect badly on charities, it should not discount the work charities do.
With that said, the way we handle organisations and individuals can differ drastically; charities should be held to account with the confidence that their work to give to others will continue while also tackling the few individuals that violate their goals. The British actor Simon Pegg said it best in a recent interview: “Oxfam is an organisation which helps countless people; I think it would be wrong to hold entire organisation to account for the actions of a few people”. On the other hand, holding individual people responsible for their actions is more complicated; we are all imperfect but should misconduct vilify us for the rest of our lives? This is made all too easy in the digital age and should instead be determined through an appropriate punishment in the justice system. Nevertheless, charity work should continue if we are to look outwards, rather than inwards as the UK is doing so often nowadays, with an increased emphasis on ensuring that each charity worker is both accountable and ethical in their responsibilities.
In spite of successful surges in 2016, the EU managed to stand strong for the time being as France and the Netherlands defeated far-right nationalism in their respective elections. Geert Wilders was beaten by Mark Rutters who will maintain his seat for another five years. In France, the French Front Leader Marine Le Pen, a big fan of Donald Trump, lost out to Emmanuel Macron, who has pledged to bring several ambitious reforms and possibly reach higher in the leadership of Europe. On the other hand, the Catalan Independence vote triggered further instability within Spain; both the EU and the United Nations chose not to recognise the vote as legitimate. Outside of these events however, 2017 was also notable for the first millennial coming to power; Sebastian Kurz, 31 is leaning to the right side of the political spectrum with one of his policies dictating that refugees who come to Austria will not receive benefits until they have lived in the country for five years. Future leaders who come to power in the future should be scrutinised and held to account.
Around halfway through the year a fire erupted at Grenfell Tower in North Kensington, London killing 71 people, injuring 74 and depriving 223 of a home. The disaster exposed incompetency in public safety on part of the Labour ran council, poor effort in financial relief from the current government and the ever-widening gap and subsequent neglect between the UK’s rich and poor. Currently the inquiry is ongoing, and details can be found online; who is to blame for this comes down to several factors; there were no sufficient sprinkler systems in place, nor was there enough funding given to make the building safer. I remember driving near the site and seeing its burnt remains jutting out among the other towers; it’s practically a monument to the horrendous and shameful way the poor have been treated in the UK and even now, many of those who did escape the fire still haven’t received their full compensation. Making sure it never happens again is only a starting point, the rift between rich and poor must also be tackled.
2017 was ultimately a year of people at the top pressing down on those beneath them; with the negative results of 2016 still in the mind, this isn’t surprising and the ways the elite took advantage of last year’s events manifested themselves in the twelve months that followed. There was pushback in some areas but there is still work to be done. One thing I saw felt quite indicative; on the way back through Brussels Airport earlier this year I saw the security barrier manned entirely by G4S employees, followed up by a billboard for Exxon Mobil, a company who has been given the go-ahead to drastically up their plastic production; considering the talk of giving G4S plans to arrest in the UK and Rex Tillerson’s questionable views on climate change, this is perhaps an indication of the power corporations and those at the top may soon hold. We should watch this carefully in the year to come.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
From November 26th to 29th 2017, I participated in the World Youth Alliance’s Emerging Leaders Conference in Brussels, Belgium. The theme: “Human Dignity in the refugee crisis” was the main anchor point and a central value for the organisation. Starting off slow on Saturday the 25th with a quick dose of exploring, I quickly mixed in with the other 69 attendees.
The city of Brussels grew on me over time; I was staying over at a part of the city called “Botanique” and while that portion was relatively modern, the best aspects came through the more classical architecture that really hammered home the history behind the city. The royal palace, towering cathedrals and large statues are all monuments to the Belgian Monarchy which stretches back to 1831. Placing these older-fashioned buildings against the backdrop of the Christmas season was a brilliant match, with the work union buildings lighting up to the Grand Place in the centre of Brussels. Because of the closely-knit nature of the city, you could walk just about anywhere without having to use the transport services too much.
Then there was the EU Parliament building itself; a massive complex that serves the beating heart of Europe; in terms of scale it was even bigger than the United Nations in New York, with a strong assortment of conference rooms, a media centre as well as a full public exhibition with a detailed timeline and history of the union. It brings a ton of context as to how the EU came to be from the end of World War Two in 1945 to end of the Cold War in 1991. This felt especially poignant to me as a British citizen; the last image on the extended timeline was in May 2016 with the Brexit vote (or what I would call a con). It put into perspective just how much we’re about to lose by leaving the European Union, from support and funding for various projects, to trade with our neighbours and connect with fellow Europeans across the continent. The EU isn’t perfect; no organisation ever is, but the benefits of membership far outweigh the drawbacks, most notably the promotion of common values that aim to carry across all member states.
This same forward-looking mindset carried over into the panels which were all very engaging and informative, whether it was UK researcher Surindar Dhesi or Swedish MEP Lars Adaktusson. They have some genuinely smart and pragmatic individuals working at the EU who have a strong resolve to understand and address these very issues. The fact that some individuals want to smear them as enemies and obstructionists of the UK is extremely shameful. On the second day of the event, I made my own speech to the group on an idea called Responsibility to Integrate (R2I), a means to improve refugee integration and promote more tolerant societies. Despite it being my first time delivering a more extended speech of over ten minutes, I felt it went very well with a balanced pacing and tone of voice that allowed me to get across my points succinctly. This continued over into the final evening in which I read out part of the WYA’s declaration after a lovely meal at a Grill Restaurant.
I haven’t been the most optimistic about the UK’s future with regards to Brexit, but to see so many inspiring and passionate young people all coming together to share their stories and perspectives felt incredibly uplifting. We hailed from very different countries including Croatia, Spain, Italy, Portugal, China, Algeria, Poland, Lithuania and Estonia among many others. The event was a fantastic time and it wouldn’t have been possible without the hard work of the organisers; but most all though, each and every person who attended formed a real sense of companionship by the end of the three days. While it went by quickly, I would definitely do it again and want to wish everyone all the best for the future. I hope that we can all contribute in our own ways to solving the world’s problems.
Boris Johnson; what a character… That’s probably the simplest way to describe the UK’s current Foreign Secretary. For many years he’s been in the spotlight, his time as the mayor of London being one example, though recently this has often been for the wrong reasons; last year he was one of the spearheads behind the leave campaign and while he wasn’t quite as vitriolic as Nigel Farage, Johnson still gained infamy for his use of a bright red bus with the slogan: “We send £350 Million a week to the EU; let’s spend that money instead on the NHS”. Of course, we know that this trick worked and Boris hoped this would propel him towards a leadership position, which instead went to Theresa May. Dishonesty and its openness have drastically increased in the UK since last year’s referendum; a willingness to twist facts and get the result you want, in turn gaining a higher ability to impose your personal interests on everyone else.
Johnson’s veering off to the side to write a self-promoting article speaks volumes of how the press plays a significant role in political procedure. The papers hold UK politicians to account but often they’re known to throw their support behind a specific party in the election; the Daily Telegraph in Boris Johnson’s case is no different. Media ownership by rich moguls is a big problem in the UK and this facilitates a medium where a pompous self-interest takes centre stage. Since Johnson repeated the false £350 million claim, the Telegraph has followed up with further articles showing fellow politician Michael Gove throwing his support into the mix; they spread the slogan without questioning it, common people read and move towards believing them; with such a massive disconnect with politics in the UK, this is how it usually goes. In return, many politicians find themselves working for newspapers, the most recent of which being George Osborne becoming the editor of the Evening Standard and Nick Clegg joining the i Paper as a columnist.
Nowadays I find myself in a somewhat similar position; writing this blog and expressing my individual opinions with a journalism degree under my belt while pursuing a planned career in international affairs, particularly through the UK’s Civil Service. I’m of the opinion that you check your biases at the door when working for this sector; what would happen if I suddenly leaked some information to the press or wrote an article bigging myself up while working to undermine my superiors? I’d probably be sacked immediately, no questions asked. This comes back to my previous post on leadership where a lack of accountability has allowed the higher-ups to get away with breaking the rules set out by democratic institutions. In my opinion, the rules and ethical conduct of country branches should travel all the way to the top, ensuring accountability is maintained and that neglect of position and responsibility is cut down. As for Boris Johnson, he’s likely to keep his job, despite the frustration from commentators, with Theresa May apparently working to rein him in so as not to look to wobbly. Where he goes from here is anyone’s guess, but he’s sure to be discredited further if continues to spread falsehoods.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
What does it mean to lead a country in the 21st Century? While for the most part we’ve moved past the dictators and conquerors of eras past, there are still many cases throughout the world where the few are being catered to while the many are either being pushed down or worse, tricked into following the wrong stories or ideas. The United States continues to have problems with its leadership, striking a nerve over the past couple of weeks.
Recently President Donald Trump hit headlines (for the 200th time this year? I’ve lost count…) on his refusal to condemn the toxic surge of white supremacists in Charlottesville, before going on to equate Nazism with the counter-protesters (Some of whom are violent themselves) standing against it. A shameful move, but the impact it had on the society at large is arguably even worse. Trump’s actions continue to damage America, but it’s also a damning example of a leadership problem that exacerbates rather than working to solve societal problems. Some of his more unsavoury supporters go along with his dismissal of the media as saboteurs and while the mainstream hasn’t been wholly balanced across presidencies, Trump should expect to be scrutinised because without coverage there is little knowledge or awareness of what leaders currently stand for. This in turn not only generates a collection of opinions on a leader but also creates a ripple effect on common people. On the one hand, leaders mislead the people to maintain their own positions or on the other, they give themselves so much status and power that citizens cannot hope to hold them to account.
He refuses to openly condemn white supremacists because it’s unhelpful towards his own self-centred goals; he wouldn’t dare anger his most ardent fans when they’re the most important group towards keeping his floundering presidency alive. They keep the likes flowing on social media and the hate running through the minds of thousands. Keep them beholding to his wildly divisive presidency and they won’t see the real problems at the very top of management. Operating within his own self-interest is the name of the game and this attitude is very damaging to the society he represents. The same also goes for fact as it is twisted and skewed to manipulate people.
Not only are people more emboldened to go out and march for a disgraceful cause, it also feeds and enhances their superiority complexes; they believe in their disgusting beliefs with a greater passion and take bolder steps to defend it. Typically, I have believed that there is good and bad in every person, but Nazism is evil, no matter which way you frame it. Having demonised themselves throughout World War II, the fact that there are people getting behind this cause shames those who fought and died over seventy years ago. We’ve reached the point where individuals are defending Nazism, a movement that committed genocide. It should never be given a platform to spread but the way America’s leader has handled the problem only amplifies this.
How you choose to represent the people and lead reflects the amount of responsibility resting on your shoulders; the people spot you so much in the media and in society that they typically form an opinion or reaction from it. Leaders should set an example to follow, not bring popularity to the worst aspects of society while turning a blind eye to behaviours that should have died out decades ago. They say that once an idea comes about, it never truly dies; efforts must be made, especially from leaders to promote and shape progressive ideas and work to shut out hateful ones, but right now that’s not on the agenda as accountability erodes and greater control is enacted either through misdirection or placing one’s self above others. The same also goes for corruption; instead of facing ramifications, it is instead swept under the rug and many unethical decisions that directly affect common citizens are hidden away behind closed doors, leaving the media, mainstream or otherwise to scrape out the details.
Indeed, no leader or the country they represent has ever been completely spotless which brings us to the official definition of the word: “the person who leads or commands a group, organization, or country.” Surely now is the time to refine that statement by adding on at the end: “with good grace, ethics and accountability”. We have the modern systems to include the people in political procedure including NGOs and some efforts from the UN but more of an effort needs to be made to raise awareness of leader’s deeds and how they are held to account. UNA-UK, an organisation working to build a bridge between the UK and the UN has suggested some measures to bring more accountability regarding the sustainable development goals, which speaks volumes of greater issues. If you have stonewalling and deflections at the highest levels of governance then the world’s problems will be very difficult to solve; therefore, leadership and ethical conduct are becoming increasingly important as world issues affect more and more people.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
The UK’s General Election in 2017 was an amalgamation of paradoxes, coming only two years after the previous one in 2015 and a year after the EU Referendum When campaigning first got underway in April this year, the Conservatives expected an easy win, a landslide that would, as the Daily Mail put it: “Crush the saboteurs” and give them free rein to do whatever they wanted to the UK, even if it came at the expense of everyone who wasn’t earning £100,000 or more a year. On top of that, they hoped that such an audacious announcement would send the other parties into panic mode, giving them barely enough time to organise a campaign to combat the Conservative onslaught. The results were far from what the Conservative party wanted. While they still came out on top with 318 seats in Parliament, this was just short of the 326 needed to form a complete majority. Labour came in second with 262, a drastic increase on their previous result, while the other parties including the Liberal Democrats and SNP in Scotland made average ground by comparison. UKIP were the biggest losers of the night, winning no seats as their leader Paul Nuttall resigned shortly afterwards. All in all, the BBC ranks the overall voter turnout at 68.7% but the real gap between votes showed with age differences. The younger crowd turned out in droves to support their preferred candidate who would deliver change while the elderly were on the opposite end of the spectrum, going with what they voted for numerous times over the years and wishing to keep things as they were.
What went wrong with Theresa May’s campaign is down to many things; from the moment she first announced the election, she was u-turning on something she had promised not to do and from there her public opinion went downhill quickly. She barely met with any voters out on the road, refused to meet and debate with her biggest opponent and came off as incredibly weak whenever she did show up on televised debates. In short, May hid away from the public eye, manufactured her “strong and stable” position with robotic repetition and waited for the billionaire owned press to spin the election for her. Her gamble was a failure because she underestimated the power of the voters, who this time had an inspiring and capable leader to get behind. Now she’s facing calls to resign; respectfully she should, considering how David Cameron had the good grace to step down after his EU Referendum fell flat last year. According to the blog Another Angry Voice, 60% of all Tory MPs want her to resign but May insists on clinging on. Instead she’s letting her advisors take the fall which may only be the first of many wobbly steps towards maintaining her power. That and her new cabinet which doesn’t seem all that progressive so far; with a few exceptions, most of the higher ups in the Conservative party are keeping their jobs. Things aren’t much better since last year. We have an environment secretary who doesn’t believe in climate change, a justice secretary who doesn’t believe in LGBT or human rights, a health secretary with schemes to destroy the NHS and a foreign secretary who hasn’t been all that effective so far. After further research, the DUP is merely a number to cobble together a government, unable to vote on any issues in the UK.
Of all the political parties in the UK, it’s UKIP who have been the biggest wild card. Formed from a set of disillusioned Conservatives who broke away to build their own party, UKIP has been difficult, a thorn in the side of their former party for years. Even the entire EU referendum was proposed by David Cameron to get the rebels in line. Last year, the United Kingdom Independence Party was one of the staunchest supporters of the leave campaign and celebrating across the country when the result came; Nigel Farage declared Brexit the UK’s Independence Day and despite only having a single MP in parliament, the party nevertheless made their mark.
Most recently the United States chose to use a MOAB or mother of all bombs to target terrorists; easily the most powerful non-nuclear device ever built, it’s a further escalation of an already raging fire. Just how far can Trump and the United States go? Will the bombs ever stop dropping? As an administration and as a country, they must rethink their attitude and approach now. Pompous use of military muscle can only lead to more conflict and more profiteering at the expense of innocent people.
(Images used for the purposes of review and criticism under fair use)
The connections to private healthcare are nothing new, third parties such as Benefit Fraud have uncovered seventy different connections between MPs and private health companies. The deal goes as follows; MPs work towards dismantling our NHS and the private health corporations deliver donations to the political parties to help them fuel their propaganda machine (and possibly pop a few pennies in individual MP’s pockets as well). Corporations bank on elections being won and the slow process of gutting public services continues unabated. With control of healthcare in their hands, they would be free to set prices on treatment, medication and even things as miniscule as plasters and personal items. The list includes the likes of David Cameron, Ian Duncan Smith, Liam Fox, David Davies, William Hague, Phillip Hammond, Amber Rudd, George Osborne and even Nick Clegg. It speaks volumes of a rotten greed at the heart of our political system.
2016 was a difficult year in many ways, there was much in the way of bitterness and little in the way of understanding; what went wrong over the past 365 days could almost be considered a chain reaction of sorts; there was something radical about this year, a point where numerous systems and sensibilities were suddenly thrown out the window in a blind rage. This is something I’ll try to consider and reflect on here, however difficult it may be from a purely UK perspective.
When talking about the Western world however, most eyes point to the UK and the United States who both took grossly misguided steps that may well end up destroying the values of openness, acceptability and freedom. The picture above explains better than words what happened to both nations in 2016; two lying conmen, masquerading as anti-establishment standing in a gold-plated lift with smug grins on their faces over how they managed to trick two of the most powerful western nations into voting against their own interests. They really did bring change this year; specifically, they made things worse and both times, events that should have derailed the two conmen had little to no effect. In the UK, MP Jo Cox was murdered by a far right terrorist chanting “death to traitors, freedom for Britain” while in the US, Trump could get away with making vulgar remarks about women and walking free from his criticism of a disabled reporter and countless ethnic minorities. It was blindingly clear that the two cons were disastrous. Britain has been hurled to the back of the queue on the world stage and into a period of uncertainty without any plan or a deal that would leave us better off and the United States has an incredibly misguided and potentially dangerous presidency coming in January 2017. On both sides of the world, the two big votes were fraught with infighting, vitriolic exchanges across social media and many instances that whipped some (not all) people into frenzies of anger and resentment. This often happens with any election but 2016 felt so unhinged and furious in the West that the structure of politics, left and right, looked set to come crashing down; not for reasons of progress but for more efficient division and manipulation of the masses to go down a specific path.
This erosion and hacking of Britain’s democracy didn’t stop at the EU referendum; Theresa May’s government passed the snoopers charter into law, perhaps the most extensive surveillance laws in the world; no discussion, no debate, they were simply put through and will come into effect next year. All companies will be required to hold browsing data (Categorised by who, what, when and where) for thousands of people across the UK with public authorities having free rein to access devices. On top of this, the government can demand a backdoor into devices from companies to allow for even more intrusion; consider the notion of all MPs being exempt from the charter and you have an extremely suspicious law coming into effect. Then there was the successful bid for Sky by media mogul Rupert Murdoch; after his last attempt was derailed by the phone hacking scandal in 2011, NewsCorp will now take over the large British broadcaster for £11.2 billion, handing over even more control to corporate media. It doesn’t bode well for public perception (which for years has been manipulated by the tabloid press) and it certainly doesn’t bode well for journalism either as a greater control and agenda is enacted on the media. Some have stated that Sky News won’t turn into Fox News in the States, but it may be worth taking their future coverage with a grain of salt. What could happen next? According to an account in the book: Hack Attack by Nick Davis, Murdoch may wish to steamroll British regulator Ofcom, imposing a complete domination of the UK press without any barriers. That’s worth keeping an eye on.
Looking ahead to 2017, what kind of progress can be made? Can we manage to learn from the massive uptake of xenophobia and division? Or will some nations, especially the West, descend into further nastiness? It may well come down to common people, who can’t be blamed for 2016’s missteps as they were horribly misled by the people above them, to make the biggest action against changes that will negatively impact them in the future, not to mention challenge racism, bigotry and those who would cause further damage and division. To close, I think this alternative Christmas message from Brendan Cox suits best; it’s something that everyone should watch and consider as we go into the new year.
(Images in the public domain used for the purposes of review and criticism)