Category Archives: Writing

UK politics is leaving the electorate nowhere to go

Over the last six years there has been plenty of talk about the ‘mess Labour left’ and the famed Conservative ‘Long term economic plan’.

In May of last year 24.3% of the population registered to vote gave the Conservatives a small majority government. There are several issues with our current voting system (first past the post) none more infuriating for those who vote than the lack of proper representation. UKIP and the Green Party for instance missed out enormously because of the current system and whether you like either’s policies, a huge number of people in Britain voted for them.

The Conservatives whilst in government have reiterated a few messages key to getting the public on board with their plans. Most notably they have spoken time and again about the huge deficit left to them by the Labour government before them.

That Labour government borrowed staggering amounts of money. So did every other nation in the world capable of doing so. When the banks went bust the taxpayer footed the bill. Whilst Labour aren’t blameless for this situation they are no more culpable than Conservatives.

The reason the Conservatives have to take their shame of the blame of the global financial crisis is because their spiritual leader, the late Margaret Thatcher, deregulated the banks in such a huge way that small banks were swallowed up and eventually the country was left with a group of super (investment) banks. Whilst Thatcher was doing this in Britain Reagan was doing the same in America. Their banks pretty much owned ours, so when their empire fell ours did too.

Whilst establishing a service industry in the country she systematically took apart Britain’s manufacturing industry and for short term gains privatised several public services. These include telecommunications, the rail network and the banking system.

There has been a great deal of focus on production in the country over the last few days and in order to stimulate growth the Chancellor has come up with the idea of cutting corporation tax. Fine in principle, flawed when it comes at the cost of the disabled and vulnerable.

For anyone thinking this is a love letter to the Labour party here is an assessment of where they have left us up to this point. They failed to reverse any of damage Thatcher’s policy inflicted on the manufacturing industry leaving the country reliant on the city of London to stimulate the economy. It’s pretty clear that when banks are given freedom to behave as they please, it doesn’t work out for the average tax payer.

They also spent a disgusting amount of money on an illegal war *cough* Hutton report *cough* at the cost to lives to those in Britain’s armed forces but more importantly huge numbers of civilians in the region. The Middle East is now as unstable as it has ever been and that is largely due to the handy work of Tony Blair and his cronies within New Labour. It is no exaggeration to say that the last Labour government left the world in a bloody and violent mess. This is almost certainly due to leaving a vacuum of power across the Middle East (Iraq, Libya, Syria) that has been swallowed up by terrorists.

Back to today and we have a Chancellor too scared to appear in the House of Commons because he has no answers to the question what on earth has happened to your budget? During his time as Chancellor George Osborne has imposed several targets aimed at impressing the electorate and failed almost every one.

The scary thing is Iain Duncan Smith stated in his resignation letter he couldn’t stand by these proposed cuts to PIP which would have seen the disabled of this country over four billion pounds worse off. This the man who was happy to endorse policy such as the bedroom tax which has been linked to the rise of suicide. Worse still given what has been said in parliament today we will have no clue as to where this black hole in funding will be filled until the autumn statement.

The SNP (and much of Scotland) have had enough and think their chances are better off going it alone. Financially it would be tough but given what’s currently on offer in British politics who can blame them? The Labour party is engulfed in tribal infighting surrounding their future direction. The Conservatives are tearing themselves apart over Europe and ‘compassionate Conservatism’ whilst the Liberal Democrats barely even exist.

When politics fails as miserably as is happening in Britain today there is always a groundswell of support for smaller parties. If history has taught us anything, this unfortunately leads to a surge in sympathy for the far right.

Labour and the Tories need to get their act together for sake of the electorate. Unfortunately too many in government forget that’s how and why they are there in the first place.

Why a flat out refusal to learn anything from history makes me so angry.

I’ve been putting off writing this post for a good while now as the subject matter is both sensitive and infuriating. I have used this blog as a form of therapy in the past but can’t see how putting my worries, thoughts and concerns on this subject matter into writing will help this time. That being said I can hold off no longer and I have learned from past experience that bottling things up only makes things worse.

On the November 13 of this year something truly terrible happened in Paris. I need not go into any detail on who, what, where and why as the fallout and exposure to this story has been intensive and at times divisive. As a result of what happened in France on that Friday night the public, politicians and media have been whipped into a frenzy about what this country should do to protect itself against such attacks and how big a part we should play in other countries foreign policy.

I had the opportunity to write about this subject matter for a university assignment but have declined to do so as I find it next to impossible to write on this subject completely objectively although this hasn’t stopped anyone in the press or media from doing so. The line between opinion and news has not so much been blurred in recent weeks but breached so heavily one wonders whether the flood can be stopped. The biggest and worst example of this was the poll ran in the Sun newspaper which was tantamount to inciting racial hatred.

Spending the last couple of weeks measuring arguments put forward both for and against UK involvement in bombing Syria I have noticed tribal politics getting in the way of level headed thinking and a complete lack of empathy from many for anyone who lives further away than western Europe.

Despite the fact that western interference in the middle east for more than a century is directly responsible for the mess we currently find ourselves in, colonial attitudes and habits die hard. ISIS, ISIL, Daesh whatever you want to call them are the love child of Bush and Blair’s embarrassing failure in both Iraq and Afghanistan. The idea that you can drop bombs and stop these people is insane. I use that word very deliberately because the west has been dropping bombs for a hundred years and yet terrorism is blossoming.

The argument from those who want to see the UK bomb Syria seem to be broken down into three camps: Those who want to see something done as an act of revenge. These people are either ignorant to the fact that innocent people will be killed and this will have consequences or they merely don’t care as long as those who die are not British. The second group are those trying to make political capital from a complex situation. These people are pushing for borders to be closed and for refugees to be abandoned on the premise that this will keep our citizens safe. They also fail to recognise that any terrorist attack in this country is likely to come from those born here and have been manipulated by terrorist propaganda and hate speech. The third group is the military elite who are desperate for the armed forces to remain relevant and give Britain a presence abroad. These people are trying to keep themselves in work and believe the military should have a voice beyond protecting people on these shores. Theirs is the most honest and straightforward argument of all even if it does lend itself to accusations of warmongering.

As the son of an immigrant I find a lot of what I hear from people around me and those online fairly hard to stomach at times. I have had family displaced, threatened and shot at as a result of past misadventures from western forces in the middle east and yet I am supposed to believe that dropping bombs on people living in the region is the best solution to a complex problem caused by prolonged military and political interference there.

Britain has propped up and helped dictatorships and family dynasties in the region with financial help and the selling of weapons since before anyone who is reading this was born. They have encouraged and whipped up revolutions in countries where the leadership was not to western taste only to withdraw support in these countries leaving innocent people to be butchered and gassed by blood thirsty dictators. They have placed incompetent puppets in charge of countries and watched as they go to ruin. This country has befriended others who behave in much the same way as the terrorists we fear so much in this country for financial gain . All of this and more is why I cannot understand why dropping indiscriminate bombs on an already war torn, desperate country will help to keep our citizens safe.

There will  be those of you who know me (and some who don’t) who will read this and think it is an opinionated and biased view but with a bit of research you will see that all I have said is the truth. I actively encourage people who think bombing Syria is a good idea to look at the background and history of the middle east before deciding that the innocent people who are being killed by air strikes are just collateral damage. Just because they speak a different language and have a different culture to you and me doesn’t make them any less human. There is no way to bomb the terrorists without killing innocent people. That’s wrong not just on a moral basis but because it will turn more and more people against us here in Britain making us far less safe.

 

An open letter to Bob Geldof

Dear Mr Geldof,

I have not long finished reading an article in the online edition of the Independent. The piece in question reflects on a speech you made to the One Young World conference in Bangkok. Within the speech you suggested that your generation left mine with the tools to change the world and spread a message of hope and peace. I have no qualms in admitting this is true. Thanks to people of your generation we have the Internet and many other technological advancements.

As you continued your speech you made it clear that you are suitably unimpressed with what younger people have done with the tools provided. You spoke of frivolity and beliefs as if they were some sort of ideological genres created single handedly by the current generation of youth. You also suggested that because millennials  were involved in the various terrorist attacks over the last weeks or so, that the whole generation is in some way implicated.

The report  by  Heather Saul does go on to say that you and your generation take some responsibility for current mess the world finds itself in but frankly your entire speech was a waste of breath given the audience. You were preaching to the choir and the only people who will read articles such as the one I did are people like me who are interested in current affairs, inequality and trying to change things one step at a time. I share information via social media, through my own writing and by word of mouth on a daily basis. I am one of an enormous number of people doing the same.

Apathy isn’t a newly formed concept. There are millions of millennials spreading the good word across social media and getting involved with protest and projects worldwide. You can’t make people take in the information you can only put it out there.

Unfortunately whilst your intentions may be well meaning they come across as patronising and in some ways a desperate attempt to stay relevant. Go and spread the message to places where it is not wasted. Your celebrity status gives you the opportunity to speak to a captive audience wherever that may be. Speak in front of an EDL rally and the cameras will follow.

Many of my family members have suffered a great deal by western actions taken in the middle east. I won’t go into any detail as I have great concerns for their safety and writing about them in this letter may do them more harm than good. There have always been messages of opposition to government foreign, home and welfare policy on both sides of the coin. These issues will continue to divide people and their opinions. The idea of abandoning these beliefs for the sake of a better future may work in theory but without strong beliefs how can we shape any future?

I agree with large parts of what you had to say in your speech and continuing to be part of a solution to the world’s problems is commendable. Please choose your words carefully in future though or you are just as likely to turn people away from peace, activism and tackling inequality as you are to get them to engage with those concepts.

Kind regards,

Tom El-Shawk.

Here is the link to the article mentioned.

Motivation and emptying the well

Of late I have had a serious issue with writing. I haven’t much liked anything I have written in the last two months and as a result my productivity has waned on a massive scale. I have had mini periods like this before but nothing quite so prolonged as this current crisis of confidence. As a result this post will probably take the form of some amatuer psychology and try and break down why I am struggling to get much done.

There can be no denying that I have felt anxious and stressed about a number of things lately. It often feels like the work I am producing for my final and most important year at university is a chore that has been rushed to get it out of the way. This rather than taking the time to make sure I am showing the best of myself has me stressed when I could do with being a lot more focused. The pressure is the same for everybody on the course so I am not using this as an excuse I am merely trying to pen (type) my worries in the hope that they will be easier to deal with when read in black and white as opposed to running around my head late at night whilst I struggle with sleep.

I have also spent the last couple of weeks fending off various viruses and ailments. I think I have let myself get run down and this hasn’t helped with regards to the mental sharpness needed to write well. I read a blog post the other day that made me determined that whatever I produce, it should be the best work I can achieve and at this moment in time I cannot stress how difficult I am finding it to do so.

I have always read a lot of articles either in paper form or online. I listen exclusively to BBC radio 4 and 5 and spend most of my limited time in front of the TV watching news. I wonder sometimes if I have saturated my brain with too much of the thing I am most passionate about but missing out on news just feels criminal to me. It must also be said that I have become increasingly disillusioned with the news I take in whatever medium that should be. Everything nowadays seems to have to be in list form or a critique and increasingly I am finding opinion pieces where they have no right to be; Either the lead in a broadcast or on the front pages of newspapers and their online outlets. What I mean by that is there is very little reporting of hard news at times and more opinion about a person or organisation. This goes against everything I have been taught and screams of bad journalism. Having had a variety of guest speakers over the years I have spent at university it would seem there is a genuine concern from some in the industry that standards are being allowed to slip and this can’t be good for anyone.

I spent the weekend trying to free myself of my worries and decided time with friends was needed to do this. It was nice to catch up with so many people on Saturday night, some I haven’t seen for a really long time. Having done so there is a nagging guilt that I should have been getting more work done but what’s done is done. I got to take in some live sport in the form of a cracking game of rugby at Drybrook and the mixture of entertainment and fresh air helped distract me from my worries for a while.

I have had a really hard time writing about sport in particular. Every time I have an idea for a piece my initial enthusiasm dims very quickly and I convince myself the subject isn’t worth writing about. Whatever happens I am going to force myself to sit in front of this laptop this week and get at least three pieces of worth, well researched and written to the best of my ability. I am going for the ‘write your way out of the block’ approach in the hope that something sparks and ignites my creative side.

Reading, writing and agreeing with people

A short while ago (a deliberately vague use of time) I toyed with the idea of becoming a comedian. Not because I thought I was funny but because I had this romantic idea that, through the genre of satire, you can not only make people laugh but help people challenge their level of social consciousness. Now of course this is an incredibly arrogant and self promoting thought but having come to that conclusion it would be a lie to say that alone was what put me off the idea. No despite sounding like a two bit Russell Brand with an over inflated ego and god complex that Freud would have been proud of it boils down to this: When you think about standing up in front of people and giving them an opportunity to tell you how poorly researched you are or how limited your ability to write something satisfactory let alone worthwhile might be, it is enough to make your stomach churn. When you write something for a newspaper, online, TV or even a book you are bound to receive a level of criticism but when you think about the immediacy of comic failure that is what really puts me off.

I’ve mentioned on a number of occasions before how I have grown up on the comedy of satire and how it has influenced my ability to read people, writing and certain situations. A lot of people would describe me as being a very cynical man who allows his belief system to encroach too far into everyday life. I’m opinionated and true to form I don’t care. Now that isn’t because I think I am somehow better than anyone else, I just trust myself to make informed opinions or decisions based on educating myself on the subject I am spouting off about at any given time. I suppose as a journalist this admission is not necessarily the sort of quality or redeeming feature a potential employer is looking for. On the other hand those of you who hate people like me can rest easy in the knowledge that I get punched in the face on public transport periodically. Generally it’s for failing to agree with the bigot with the can of extra strength lager spilling unceremoniously onto the walkway as a mother pushing a pram tries to get past. For instance I don’t believe that performing a sexual act with the deceased head of a member of the even-toed ungulates family to get into an elitist club is better than failing to sing a song that worships an unelected head of state funded primarily by the taxpayer.

Whilst thinking about it all I can understand that people might read this and think what a pretentious knob. There is a danger that this post is just a self congratulatory piece I am writing to distract myself from more important worries. On top of that I do recognise that just because I invariably disagree with certain groups of people and tend to agree with others it doesn’t mean I am always right. I feel like that line has taken me a little off topic but was necessary for those who are new to this blog or have forgotten the purpose for why I started it. If that is the case then please feel free to read the ‘about‘ page.

On the subject of agreeing with people; the inspiration for writing this blog post came from comedy I have familiarised myself with in the past few days by people like Josie Long and Stewart Lee. That in turn was inspired by a video I saw on social media by this guy. Enjoy.

An open love letter to the 90s

Late last night my mind took me on a trip down memory lane. It was a pleasant trip but one that would have been far better appreciated if it hadn’t kept me awake until 4 am this morning.  A few days ago I was chatting with friends about an old tv series called ‘This life’ and as a result I decided I would rewatch it. A few episodes in and I am hooked. Some of the acting is a little over done whilst other characters are a bit wooden but the writing is brilliant and I am a real sucker for nostalgia. The little things made me laugh, like the fact the characters are not all glued to their, as yet not made, smartphones. When they get bored they don’t have social media to entertain them, they have to find other ways to stimulate themselves. Some play cards, whilst others read but much more shocking than all that, these fictional characters actually talk to each other, like a lot and face to face too!

Watching the series brought back a whole host of memories of my childhood and growing up the annoying youngest brother to my big bro and sis. Much of the 90s was spent seeking their approval and trying to gain their attention. I must have driven them crazy at times but I hung on their every word as a kid and made heros of them and their friends. It can’t have been easy for them having me hanging around all the time but they put up with me for the most part.

This is definitely the nostalgia speaking but everything was better back then, well it was in my head anyway! There seemed to be a feeling of hope everywhere as if anything could be achieved if you took your opportunities. The tunes were amazing and remain to this day the cornerstone of my musical taste. There was the club scene which I was desperate to be savvy about due to my brothers love for all things house and clubs, then there was britpop which was so much more than Oasis vs Blur.

oasis

Back then I used to think my parents were so strict which is pretty hilarious now when I think about it. They didn’t own a house so much as a youth club! If it wasn’t flooded with my brother and sister’s friends then it would almost certainly be full of mine, although it must be said my friends and I were usually busy kicking a ball around in the garden. I would walk around a lot of the time with my collar turned up like my hero Eric Cantona. I was completely in awe of this guy and when the enigmatic Frenchman retired I was equally devastated. To help ease the pain my Gran bought me a video entitled ‘Au revoir Cantona’. I must have watched that VHS everyday for a year and I’m pretty sure I wore it out. It covered his entire United career and a little bit of what went before. After Eric came Becks. I wanted to be him and let’s face it who wouldn’t? He was the new face of football and a talented one at that. If all that wasn’t enough the good looking wonder boy was going out with a Spice girl! Whether people like to admit it or not it was cool to go it with a Spice girl back then. I remember being insanely jealous of one particular friend (who I won’t name and shame) after they had the famous Beckham foils put through their hair, my fuzzy mess would never allow for that. I can vividly remember knocking long balls to my mates up the rec imitating that famous snap of the foot and left arm wave he would produce before every cross or free-kick. The so called class of 92 brought home the idea that anything could be achieved back then and never more so than when they won the treble.

ERIC

Even the England football team played some good stuff at times in the 90s and this is when they gave me the first of many heart breaks. I would love to say these memories stem from Italia 90 but I was only 4 and although I can remember palpable disappointment I’d be lying if I said I understood why the country was in mourning. No, due to incompetence the England football team weren’t good enough to qualify for another tournament until World Cup 98. In between that though they were hosts for Euro 96 and my memories of that tournament still send shivers down my spine. Thanks to the Lightning Seeds and Baddiel and Skinner there was a real expectation and hope that football indeed might be coming home. We played some great football but the obvious highlights are Gazza and the dentist chair alongside the demolition of the Dutch. That Sheringham lay off to Alan Shearer remains to this day the best pass I’ve ever seen a footballer in an England shirt produce. Beating Spain in the quarter finals is still England’s last penalty shootout triumph. The less said about Gazza’s size nines, Southgate and Muller the better. They always say the first time is the worst and I don’t mind telling you how hard I cried after losing to Germany in the semis.

Gazza

Outside of music and football there was the fashion or lack there of it. I find it both painful and funny to look back on photos from that decade. I, along with friends and family, must have thought I looked good. Either that or I just didn’t care! Some of it has reared its ugly head again today but it does serve to make me smile.

naf naf bomber jacket kickers

I suppose it could be worse. It could be the 80s!!

Anger and disappointment

I will start off this post by making clear that it will probably be a little self indulgent on my part. I started this blog post to vent my frustrations and share good and bad memories with those with the inclination to read it.

When it comes to the world of journalism much of the advice and teaching I have been given has focused on being accurate and removing any sort of opinion or belief from the copy. When writing features I have been told that I need to love what I am writing. I may have mentioned in the past how it feels to write something and really enjoy what you’re doing. Sometimes the words just flow, other times your background and notes offer the inspiration to write something you are truly proud of and then there are the times where the writing becomes a chore and although there isn’t anything wrong with the piece, there is little to no enjoyment in proof reading it when you think you are done.

A while ago I was scanning social media when I came across a hashtag on Twitter which caught my attention: #TipsForYoungJournalists. I clicked on it and read through the various attempts at humour and sarcasm, tips that had already been drilled into me by lecturers and the nitty gritty interesting stuff that you can only get from experience in the field. Out of all of the tips I read there was only really one that stood out to me on a personal level. Alex Thomson of Channel 4 in the UK told me (it felt like it had been written for me) get into journalism because you are angry. Do it because you want to challenge the status quo and be part of a change for the better. This sentiment goes against everything I have been taught at university and is something I have been wrestling with ever since. On the one hand the press in this country are, in the majority, on the right of the political spectrum with a few exceptions in the centre and then smaller brands such as the Morning Star on the left. This leads me to believe that belief and opinion must be deeply entrenched in the ideology of the press. Whilst a readership might not care what I think about the copy I am writing, the outlet I am writing it for most certainly must. On the other hand I value impartiality in my work as highly as I do anything else. Either way it feels like it’s a mental struggle that can’t be won but must be taken into consideration.

I have had a frustrating summer all in all and not just because of the recent downpours that have blighted most of August. I have spent an enormous amount of time calling, emailing and writing to people in order to gain some much needed and invaluable work experience with little to no success. On top of this I have spent too many hours scouring the Internet for potential employers for when I finish my degree. It is important to see what the market wants and what I can offer with my skill set. What employers are looking for might not be my preferred route into journalism but I am not naive enough to think the perfect job will fall into my lap. Hard work and dedication are not just buzzwords they are going to be essential if I am going to succeed. Nowadays you need something to make you stand out. There is an ocean of talented writers and young journalists out there all vying for a place in tiny pool of jobs.

In the mean time I will stay on top of the news and keep plugging away with potential projects and ideas, after all I have one more year left at university and then the real fun and games begin.