Fashion Targets Charity

By Chris Waller

When I saw an advert for the ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ campaign on a station platform the other day it didn’t take long to feel a surge of indignation.

FTBC is a range of clothing created by a globally recognised designer and sold in a selection of high-street clothing shops. A percentage of the income from this range of clothing will go to breast cancer research in women under 40. I don’t know how much money is being raised, or the exact percentages in question but I don’t think it really matters. The true value of the campaign is in terms of ideology rather than capital.

It seems to me that the high-street fashion industry, being the clearest representative of personal identification and creative self expression, has had to approach the problem of mass producing clothes while retaining their status and distinction. Essentially, the more popular a piece of clothing is the less valuable as an identifier it becomes. As a result the fashion industry has always relied on the symbolic prestige of high fashion and branding to create this value in their products. The current favour by certain groups (predominantly women under 40) for vintage clothing shows that people are beginning to place more value in a unique artefact rather than the industry’s mass produced currency and branding. In response to their slipping status the fashion industry is now turning to a new set of social stimuli to add value to their products; guilt and insecurity.

Broadly speaking I don’t have a problem with charitable organisations, though we should certainly take each one by merit. I also think research into breast cancer cures and prevention is certainly positive and confronts a very present disease. The problem, however, with using charity to market products is that it is simply exploitative.

A shared vulnerability in modern society is our feeling of guilt. This is to say that almost every action we make we understand as having a moral repercussion whether in relation to a developing nation or to the person behind us in a queue. We are no longer playing a zero sum game. Our supposed entitlement to convenience and comfort clashes head to head with the saturating rhetoric of global tragedy and environmentalism. With this paradoxical problem well entrenched in our consciousness our ability to validate ourselves as fair and morally responsible individuals is beset by the clawing subtext of western guilt. The role of charity has shifted from having a religious or humanist rationale to constituting its own karmic system through which to balance our negative impact on the world.

This dynamic has been evident for some time in ideology, and if one looks to the Catholic Church for example the exchange of prayer or monetary donations for forgiveness is a similar mechanism. Despite the cynicism of this transaction, the individual in this case can at least buy into a wider moral framework as a result of their sacrifice. The act of confession and repentance acts as a way of acknowledging ones behaviour and can provoke reflection. What strikes me about ‘Fashion Targets Breast Cancer’ and large charity organisations in general is that the element of personal, moral involvement with a cause has been replaced by the need to mediate our feelings of guilt.

Supporting a cause today is as simple as setting up a direct debit, clicking a link, or buying clothes. These activities are nothing that we don’t already do as part of our daily life. The integration of charitable causes into economic and social life sets a new bar as to what constitutes charitable behaviour. The paradox is that in order for a charity to claim any global importance it must appeal to our most apathetic instincts. We can’t bear to feel guilty for behaving as good units of the economy, for having everything that our consumer culture says we are entitled to and so our way around this dilemma is to make consumption an act of charity itself.

Perhaps it’s not fair to single out one organisation profiting from our guilt but I feel this trend in marketing, by targeting the very value of morality, is amongst the most distracting and socially pathological phenomenon.

To those who say that participating in this sort of scheme is better than doing nothing I would reply that at least in doing nothing we are able to feel our guilt as a productive force. By buying into this system we are enforcing the idea that we can behave however we like and ignore the real consequences of our actions. If we in the West feel guilty about the impact of our economy, policy, or culture then let’s not resort to social equivalent of eating a two litre tub of ice cream in order to make us feel better.

It will be difficult for the Tories to win in 2015 without UKIP; with them, it would be impossible

The rise of UKIP has mean talk of a pact with the Conservatives has increased, but who would it be beneficial for? (C) Euro Realist Newsletter

By Alex Bryan

Ever since UKIP emerged as a credible political party under the tutelage of Nigel Farage, talk of some kind of agreement or pact with the Conservative party has never been far from the lips of columnists. It is only recently however that both sides have begun to speak of such a possibility in a serious way. Michael Fabricant MP, Conservative vice-chair for Parliamentary Campaigning said this week that he would like to have a ‘discussion’ with UKIP. The most popular suggestion for an arrangement between the parties appears to be an agreement that UKIP will not run in the 2015 election, and that in exchange there will be an in-out referendum on the EU.

Nigel Farage has immediately distanced himself from such talk, saying that ‘it’s war’ between the two parties. However, considering the current popularity of UKIP (specifically amongst disillusioned Conservative voters), Farage has no need currently to publically say that such an option is on the table.

As the election draws closer though, it would be no surprise if UKIP hands begin to twitch. For all the talk of the rise of UKIP from laughing stock to serious party, they are still polling in single figures. The chance of them gaining a significant number of seats is small. They are also dependent upon the continuation of the Eurozone crisis in order to maintain their popularity; while Greece will not be stable by 2015, it may well be by 2020. The perfect storm has been raging for 5 years, yet UKIP are still a minor party. It will not rage much longer, and the party must face reality. An alliance of some kind with the Conservative party is their best chance of achieving their central policy.

So what of the Conservatives? As polls show Labour 11 points ahead, as the economy continues to flag, as the boundary review is thrown into the long grass and as ‘omnishambles’ is named word of the year, an increasing number of commentators are beginning to wonder whether the Conservatives can hope to beat Labour without UKIP. Indeed, the combined total of Conservative and UKIP polling figures suggests an alliance would significantly narrow the difference of popularity between the two parties.

Despite this, it would be a grave mistake for the Conservative party to make an alliance with UKIP in the next election. Though the polling gap between Labour and the Conservatives becomes tantalisingly close once the UKIP vote is added to the existing Tory total, this does not mirror reality. There are a significant number of Conservative voters who used to vote for Labour when Tony Blair was leader, and this demographic would be immediately turned off by a pact. UKIP’s Euro-scepticism may be a policy which many agree with, but it must be remembered how radically right-wing many of their domestic and social policies are, particularly on law and order and defence.

By agreeing to any pact with UKIP, the Conservatives would immediately be seen as endorsing some of the same domestic policies as UKIP. It has become fashionable for some conservative commentators to suggest that the way for the Conservatives to win the next election is to emphasise traditionally conservative policies – in effect, to more to the right. However, to do this would be to make the same mistake that the Republicans made in the U.S. elections. The Conservative party must remember why they do not have the same policies as UKIP – because the British public at large is no longer supportive of such policies.

As a political entity, the Conservative party is the most enduring force in Britain. Part of the reason for this is that it has shifted as popular opinion has. To attempt to gain a parliamentary majority by making a pact with UKIP would not only be unsuccessful, but would also show a highly inaccurate analysis of the political climate. The best chance the party has of winning in 2015 is by concentrating on discrediting Ed Miliband and Ed Balls and on the economy. The more the Conservative party flirts with UKIP, the further it gets from a majority.

The success of UKIP could be bad news for LGBT rights

With UKIP seemingly gaining momentum in their battle to become the nation’s third party, could their record on LGBT rights derail them? (C) Ian Roberts

By Lucy Browett

 This week’s by-elections have revealed a dangerous, growing popularity for UKIP.  Well, almost certainly dangerous if you are part of the LGBT community. As Labour retained Manchester Central and Cardiff South & Penarth, they won Corby by a swing of almost 13%. If this wasn’t satisfying enough for Labour, they also revelled in the fact that the Conservatives were extremely close to coming fourth in the Manchester Central results, beating UKIP by a mere 5 votes. In Corby especially, the rise of UKIP is evident as they received 14.3% of votes. While many may view UKIP as a desirable party to lead Britain out of economic difficulties, for the lives of LGBT citizens, UKIP influence on the House of Commons and the general public would have a detrimental effect.

In a statement released this week on UKIP’s website, the party reinforces its opposition to equal marriage rights, describing it as “not a burning issue” and that “it is not a matter which animates the daily discourse of the nation”. UKIP has previously described proposed equal marriage legislation as “picking a fight” with religious organisations.

To view the issue of equal marriage as unimportant and as if it is not a subject of campaigns (such as Out4Marriage), discussions and protests all around the country is ludicrous. It begs the question of whether UKIP are aware of what the real “burning issues” are, after so boldly stating that equal marriage is not one of them. On a daily basis, individuals’ minds may not be plagued with the thought that it is not currently legal for them to marry someone of the same sex. However, UKIP fail to take into account the long-term same-sex couples who would like to, but cannot, enter into exactly the same legal agreement as other adults in monogamous relationships can due to the current law. To me, and many others, that is enough of a “burning issue”.

Aside from matters of marriage, UKIP MEPs have expressed personal beliefs that equate to downright bigotry. Earlier this year, Roger Helmer MEP made comments including a tweet questioning “Why is it OK for a surgeon to perform a sex-change operation, but not OK for a psychiatrist to try to ‘turn’ a consenting homosexual?” He also asked in a blog post, “If two men have a right to marry, how can we deny the same right to two siblings?” These comments were followed in April this year by UKIP Oxford city council hopeful Dr Julia Gasper, who said that gay people should “stop complaining and start thanking straight people”, in relation to another comment in which she stated that “homosexuals are completely dependant on heterosexuals to create them”.

UKIP and its members cannot still be holding these opinions and prejudices if they realistically want to surpass the Liberal Democrats as “the third party”, as they often inform their members they are well on the way to doing. They need to consider policies to reduce LGBT discrimination in the UK instead of pandering to the ex-Conservative members who were not happy with socially liberal David Cameron. It is the 21st century and countries all around the world are passing anti-discriminatory legislation which gives rights to LGBT people and activists are opposing legislation which doesn’t. UKIP must consider the minority it has hastily overlooked.

November Elections: Too cold to vote?

By Kirstin Fairnie

I really do not understand why everyone’s moaning; if only the government had not held the elections for police commissioners in November, then obviously so many of us would have turned out to vote that the poor people at the polling stations would have been traumatised by the mob of impatient voters banging at the doors to be let in. It’s funny that Mitt Romney has not used the November-effect as an excuse for his defeat.

Political analysts, much more qualified than me, have been pleading this case for weeks, so I am somewhat loath to rock the boat on this one, but I just really do not believe that if the elections had been held in July (when everyone would have been in the Costa del Sol anyway) we would all have dashed out to vote. In November, we need something out of the ordinary to cheer us up, so surely an all-new election should act like a SAD-lamp for our diaries? Apparently not, since only 15.8% of Wiltshire voters turned out yesterday.

I am still not convinced it was because of the time of year though. This explanation insults voters and suggests that we see voting in national elections as no more important than filling out an online feedback form. Unless there is a free iPad at stake, we won’t bother wasting 30 seconds of our time. It suggests that we see voting as so unimportant that cold and wet weather will deter us from leaving the house. Surely a country such as ours that deems itself to be a paragon of Western democracy and is shocked and appalled by Xi Jinping’s undemocratic slide into the Chinese presidency would have an electorate with a burning passion to express their opinions at the polling booths come rain or come shine?

Yes, it is bit odd that so few people in Wiltshire seem to value actually bothering to vote as the cornerstone of a democratic society. I would be interested to know how many of the people who did not vote grumble about the work that their elected police commissioner does during their time in office. I expect it will be something a little higher than 15.8%. But I do not think that this can be put down to the weather.

For starters, this year the weather was as depressing then as it is now, probably more so actually since we really don’t expect driving rain and gale-force winds in July. And if it had been a normal year, the baking heat would have made us too lethargic to get up from our siestas to vote, and we would certainly not have been running anywhere. On a summer’s day, there is a higher risk that I would not be able to vote because I was buried in sand at the beach or because I had got lost trying to find an ice cream van.

Rather than criticising the government’s timetabling, I think it is more important that we look at reminding people just how important it is to exercise your democratic right to vote.

ATP Tour Final – Federer v Djokovic

By Cressida Smart

For the fifth time this year, Novak Djokovic and Roger Federer will go head to head.
The two best men’s players in the world – the Australian Open champion against the
Wimbledon champion – with their season series tied at two matches each, doing battle in
the final match of the 2012 season.

Djokovic bested Federer in Rome and at Roland Garros, while Federer was the victor at
Wimbledon and in Cincinnati. Monday’s final will mark the 29th time that the two have
met, with Federer holding a 16-12 advantage. Neither man has had an easy path to the
final, with Djokovic needing three sets to dispatch Juan Martín del Potro 4-6, 6-3, 6-2,
while Federer bested U.S. Open champion Andy Murray 7-6 (5), 6-2.

What is there left to say about Roger Federer as a tennis player? He came into this
tournament after losing in the final at Basel, a tournament he calls his own, against del
Potro and pulled out of the Masters in Paris last week to be ready for the ATP Tour
Finals. His preparation for this event is always second to none. You can’t discount him
collecting the trophy for the third year in a row here after a stunning year.

Federer started the year way off the pace in the points, but stated his goal was to reclaim
the world No.1 spot. Many mocked his predictions, but seven titles this year, including
Wimbledon, have realised exactly what he prophesised. He has now lost just one match
in the last 14 here: the three set loss to del Potro in the round robin group. In addition,
he has won back to back titles in 2011 and 2010 and in total, a record six times. He has
failed to reach the semis only once and has only lost a total of five round robin games
from 33 played. In 11 years, he’s lost fewer games than Djokovic has in six years. He
truly is the man for this competition.

Age of course is now Federer’s biggest challenge. Looking through the years of this
competition, it’s true to say the quality in Federer’s earlier years was not up to the same
standard as it is now and in Djokovic he faces probably the greatest challenger to his
dominance.

Djokovic was never going to replicate this year what he achieved last year. It was beyond
human endurance to do so. He has given up a few titles this year, but has, for the majority
of the year, held onto the No.1 spot after a good last few months winning Beijing and
Shanghai back to back. Despite being a winner of this event back in 2008, his record is
not great and he’s won as many matches as he’s lost (9-9).

However, you could argue that Djokovic is now the complete tennis player and more
suited to this event. He has already been involved in two three set matches here this week
against Murray and del Potro and has the endurance to see another one out against the
man he takes most pleasure from beating. It’s true there’s no love lost between the two
and the last match up in Cincinnati saw Federer win the final with a straights sets victory
which included a bagel first set for Federer; the only time it’s happened between these
two in 28 meetings.

If Federer is to win, he must keep the rallies short and make his first serve count.
Djokovic is one of the best returners in the game and if he sees plenty of second serves
from Federer, he will take full advantage and pounce. For Djokovic, he has to be
aggressive and make Federer move around the court to bring about unforced errors.
Federer has been convincing this week most of the time, but against both del Potro and
Ferrer, his unforced error count was high. He can’t afford to do that against Novak.
Djokovic has to start well; Federer is incredibly hard to beat from behind and when he
is in front, he invariably stays there. In three set matches between the two, the winner of
the first set has gone on to lose only twice from 21 matches. So, winning the first set is
monumental, psychologically.

Playing as often as they have doesn’t give either man the advantage. Instead, it evens the
playing field, with each knowing the other’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies. It’s
only fitting that Djokovic and Federer will contest the final match of the season, seeing as
how the two of them, along with Murray, have basically had their run of the sport since
Rafael Nadal went down with an injury in June and has since, not returned to action.

As ever there’s nothing between the two. Their records this year have been almost
identical on a hard court. It looks to be a three set affair yet again and regardless of who
wins, it’ll be a phenomenal end to another great ATP year.

The inevitable result of the Police Commissioner elections

By Alex Bryan

On 15 November, the first ever Police Commissioner elections will take place in England and Wales. Much has been made of the low turnout expected at the polls, which will surely be a disappointment for the Government, which championed the idea of these elections on the basis of localism.

Turnout, however, is almost an irrelevance in these elections. Strange as it sounds, so is the result. The monumentally important thing that will arise from these elections is a re-framing of crime policy in this country. More specifically, Police Commissioner elections will drag UK crime policy dramatically to the right, both on a local and a national level.

For decades the Conservative Party gained significant support from the working class for its strong ‘law and order’ policy, and Labour were only able to regain power once they convinced the public that they held a similar position. When Tony Blair said that he would be ‘tough on crime, tough on the causes of crime’, it was the promise to be ‘tough on crime’ which won him mass support.

Public opinion on crime has always been of a ‘lock ‘em up’ nature, which has usually been tempered by politicians. The creation of the police commissioner role makes this less possible. Police commissioners can do little to prevent crime in a meaningful long-term way, so the discourse both in elections and throughout the term will be on ‘tackling crime’.

The video released by the Home Office to encourage participation in the elections has actively encouraged this view of the role. The video shows violent crime, vandalism, abuse, muggings and shoplifting accompanied by a haunting musical score. The message is ‘On 15th November, criminals will hope you do nothing’. By portraying crime as simply ‘something done by criminals’ and by suggesting the Police Commissioner role is only about stopping violent crime, the Home Office has framed the elections within the ‘law and order’ paradigm. The video footage of crime might encourage a few people to vote, but it will also encourage a view of crime which is unhelpful, and likely to result in some radical candidates being elected.

The result of the election is a shift in the Overton window towards dangerous crime policy. Regardless of who wins on November 15, the long-term effect will be a revival of a crime policy which demonises ‘criminals’ rather than analysing crime, which favours draconian punishment and reprisal over pre-emptive measures and which, ultimately, makes people feel less safe. This is already happening; the fact that 5 far-right English Democrat candidates are standing, whereas only one Green Party candidate is up for election shows how this position favours a right-wing concept of crime.

This is likely to transfer into the national arena. Indeed, the ground is fertile for a radicalisation of crime policy. Chris Grayling is the most right-wing Justice Secretary there has been since the role was introduced in 2007, and is likely to be sympathetic to calls for a more draconian criminal justice paradigm. His speech at the Conservative Party Conference is a manifesto for a radical crime policy, with calls for a right to self-defence and a ‘two strikes and out’ policy for violent crime. Considering that a successful or popular Police Commissioner could become a viable party option for a role in the Ministry of Justice or the Home Office, soon enough, national policy could be driven by ex-Police Commissioners.

Some will say that if the elections result in the election of radical candidates, or results in candidates fighting over who will be toughest on crime, that is simply a reflection of the views of the electorate, and should be accepted in a democracy. But no democracy has elections for everything. It is an act of political expediency to decide which positions we should have elections for and which should be appointed by elected or unelected officials. A healthy democracy is not one which has elections for everything, but one which has elections for the right things. The introduction of Police Commissioner elections will make our democracy much less healthy.

Home is where the hate is?

by Kristin Farnie

We all like to kid ourselves that because we have a million friends on Facebook, we really are sociable. But that’s only on our terms. We don’t really like people that aren’t like us. Which is a shame really, because just like our guidance teachers told us, we are all unique. David Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ and Ed Miliband’s ‘One Nation’ make us wince because we know they’d just mean we’d have to be nice to people we don’t really want to rub shoulders with. Literally.

Turns out that despite our technological advances, we haven’t actually progressed very much as a society. We still view the brick walls of our homes around us as sanctified, and we certainly don’t think the government should try and do anything to change that.

If radio phone-ins are anything to go by (and I’m really hoping they’re not), people don’t generally like or trust other people outwith their family and immediate social groups. This is a bit of a problem, because quite a few of the ideas unveiled at the Conservative party conference last week involve actually being able to live in a society with other human beings.

We live in constant fear of other ‘people’, assuming that we and our friends form a tiny minority of safe people. Since there’s fewer of us, it’s only right that Chris Grayling should give us greater burglar-bashing rights. I don’t know when our society became quite so every-man-for-himself (probably around about the same time as the big bang, let’s face it), but we’ve spent so many generations teaching our children not to trust other people that we don’t believe anybody normal would ever consider the thoughts of others.

Council-house tenants are horrified at the idea that they might have to lodge homeless people. Some claim that they don’t think they could ensure their childrens’ safety if there were homeless people about. Which is a just a little bit of a generalisation, isn’t it? But homelessness hasn’t been properly targeted by the PC brigade yet, so it’s still kind of socially acceptable to think that all homeless people are addicts of some kind, that they have only themselves to blame for their situation.

Our gut reaction to proposed changes to planning laws? Everyone will build huge, concrete bunkers over our gardens. They’ll sit staring at us and all of the people-like-us through their new windows that look directly into our bathrooms. Obviously the overhang from their extension will be so huge that we will end up living in perpetual darkness, so all we’ll be able to see of our tyrannical neighbour is their eyes levitating in the dark. Only an idiot could think that somebody who fancied extending their house so their elderly granny could move in wouldn’t go ahead with it when they realised that it would have an impact on their neighbours.

Austin Mitchell and the Feminist Twitter Backlash

By James Aisthorpe

On Monday, Labour MP for Great Grimsby Austin Mitchell said on twitter: “Shut up Menschkin [Louise Mensch MP].A [sic] good wife doesn’t disagree with her master in public and a good little girl doesn’t lie about why she quit politics”.

The tweet, which was aimed at Mrs. Mensch’s recent twitter-based spat with her husband, was retweeted 158 times and Mr. Mitchell has received, and deservedly so, a barrage of scorn as a result of what he subsequently described as his low form of wit.

Clearly Mitchell’s tweet has several sexist elements.  Describing an influential female Conservative MP as a “Menschkin” and a “little girl” is abhorrent and it seems unlikely that he would have made similar remarks to any man.  In fact we can be pretty sure he would not, since the tweet was in no way derogatory toward Mensch’s husband, Peter, rather it described him as the “master”.

Even if we accept Mitchell’s explanation that his buffoonish tweet was supposed to be ironic then it nonetheless shows a disturbing lack of sensitivity or empathy toward women’s issues.  There are those who will be quick to accept that it was all just a joke but if it were racist irony that had been tweeted then, at least I hope, it would never be tolerated.

Quite rightly Mensch, who represented the Corby constituency, has demanded an apology, but none has been forthcoming, neither from Mitchell himself nor the Labour Party more generally.

Mitchell later said that his wife had banned him from tweeting for the rest of the day.  In such a context it seems likely that Mitchell was indeed joking, but the saga highlights the ongoing problem of men, and perhaps older men most notably, not taking feminist issues seriously.

Mitchell is 78, and so we should not be surprised that some of his views belong to a different time, or that he lacks some sympathy for the rights issues of this time.  That is not to say the elderly should not be represented in parliament but there is a balancing act to be struck between experience and youth.  Too often politics is left chasing after changes in society and in ethics; progress being held back by outdated views.

But I’d like to return to the reaction on Twitter.  Mitchell received a flood of negative replies to his sexist comments and it was right that Mitchell was called out for them.  I disagree, however, with those who quickly labelled Mitchell a misogynist or a sexist.

While it is one thing to call the original tweet misogynistic it is quite another to label Mitchell himself a misogynist.  Moreover it was probably unhelpful in making Mitchell see his error, by jumping to the erroneous conclusion that Mitchell is an absolute sexist he was forced on to the defensive.

What should, and could, have happened is for Mitchell to have been engaged by feminists wishing to communicate their concerns about his comment in a non-antagonistic way.  Twitter should have helped him see what it was he had done wrong, should have educated him.

So, where do we go from here?  Mitchell must obviously apologise and agree to talk to feminists so as to understand why what he said was so out of touch, but feminists must stop declaring him a misogynist and using his ill-educated tweet as political ammunition.  He may be sexist, but one foolish tweet does not prove that.

The ball is in Mr. Mitchell’s court, he and the Labour Party must make the first move.  If he does not, of course, we can then at the least decide if he has an antipathy towards women’s issues but thus far Twitter has been too reactionary and hasty in its branding of Mitchell.  In the future a more nuanced approach is required if we are to convince people of the importance of women’s issues.  The all guns blazing approach just does not work.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 616 other followers