Hundreds of students and staff defiantly march through Sheffield demanding fair pensions

See it published: Forge Press. This was a lead story in the print paper.

Scenes of defiance, anger and determination erupted across Sheffield City Centre today as hundreds of students and striking lecturers marched in unity against cuts to staff pensions.

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Students, locals and lecturers rally together in defiant show of solidarity outside Firth Court

See it published for Forge Press. This was featured as a splash in print.


Flares, passionate chants and dancing were on show outside Firth Court today as hundreds of students, lecturers and local people rallied together in support of the UCU strike.

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Green Party leader calls Vice Chancellor’s salary “obscene”

See this published for Forge Press. This made the front page in print.

Caroline Lucas has called the salary of the University’s Vice-Chancellor Keith Burnett “obscene” and supported the striking Sheffield lecturers whilst visiting the city.

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The Landmark Legal Challenge to Universal Credit System Explained

See it published on RightsInfo here. Shared over 300 times on social media.

A controversial new social security benefit, currently being rolled out across the UK, is facing a major legal challenge. But what’s the challenge all about and what impact might it have? 

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A Cabinet Reshuffle Can’t Change Careless People: A Window on Dead Modern Britain From The Failed Generation

See it published on HuffPost. This piece was promoted to the front of the Politics page Huffpost UK website, reaching millions of readers.

Most national websites offer similar advice for bloggers, centred around being specific; keeping the subject narrow. But when everyone does this, we can lose a broader perspective. You could say that’s for books and docs, but come on let’s be realistic – I’m a uni student.

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Trump’s Assault On Climate Change Is Capitalism At Its Worst: Civil Society Must Resist

WRITTEN FOR HUFFPOST. SEE PUBLISHED ARTICLE HERE.

I have one thing to say to you, Donald Trump – you are a manipulative, bigoted and pathetic man. How, when it has been tried and tested that environmental sustainability accelerates economic growth can you claim the opposite? What is it about you that is so present-orientated, so short-sighted, so ignorant? The answers are clear, and it is not like we are all surprised at this. I have resisted until now the urge to spill out my seething anger with your clique of White, suited, wealthy men that now govern the United States, but this is the final straw. As a member of the Green Party and a passionate environmentalist, I cannot stay quiet any longer.

The announcement that the newly ‘elected’ (remember Russia? Most in the media have forgotten) White House is backtracking on Obama’s generational commitment to clean power was only to be expected, but it is no less scandalous. Obama’s clean power plan is set to reduce US carbon dioxide emissions by 32% below 2005 levels, and currently prevents more than 1.8bn tons of coal from some 24 mines, which if allowed to be burned would emit the carbon dioxide emissions equal to 700m cars, it is estimated. But despite its significance this is one environmental policy among many now under threat. Trump’s executive order also covers significant amounts of fracking regulation, the 2013 climate action plan, Obama’s 2015 rule requiring permits for any actions that may pollute major water sources, and the very existence of the Environmental Protection Agency, from which he outrageously announced yesterday’s executive order.

But we must not get carried away with glorifying Obama, for his record is by no means flawless. Although a Democrat, he like his predecessors since Ronald Reagan could not resist the urge of neoliberalism (based around free market capitalism) to undemocratically and unaccountably corrupt the globe. Indeed, a collaborative investigation between Columbia University and The Guardian found that during Obama’s two terms in office the US Export Import Bank – closely linked with the treasury – financed $34bn of fossil fuel coal plants, pipelines and refineries across the globe from Columbia to Australia. Nonetheless, Obama’s record was a marked improvement on his predecessors, such as his proposal of new fuel economy regulations for trucks and cars, set to reduce carbon emissions by 1.1bn tons. Perhaps most progressively, the Obama administration also showed the leadership on the global stage that was a long time coming for the world’s largest economy (albeit soon to be overtaken by China). This was apparent by Obama’s investment of $3bn into the Green Climate Fund, supporting environmentally clean economic growth in ‘developing’ countries, and of course the USA’s landmark commitment to the Kyoto Protocol at the Paris Agreement, ratified last year.

That every one of these measures is now under threat thanks to the deluded Trumpian drive towards some fantastical economic dream represents the worst face of predatory capitalism. Most in the media are too scared to say the word (apparently it’s too extreme), but lets call this out for what it is: predatory, uncompromising, dark capitalism. Since the abominable economic overhaul led by Thatcher and Reagan throughout the 1980s, the US, Europe and increasingly many new industrial powerhouses in Eastern Asia and Southern America have relied upon the neoliberal myth that the free market, deregulation, privatisation, and corporatisation are the only means for economic growth. Just look at the level of inequality across these continents, and between these countries and underdeveloped countries, maintained as poor and inefficient by the self-seeking neoliberal model, to see how far it has got us.

The Trumpian economic model is a variation of this, for his protectionism is somewhat unique. In many ways, this is worse as the Trump team are using a nationalist vision for US economic growth and US economic growth only as their justification for destroying the planet. But this vision is deeply flawed. A White House that really acts in the interests of American people would be leading the global effort for protecting this planet, its natural beauty, its species, and its natural resources for future generations to enjoy. Rather, we have a Trump administration that lies through its teeth that it is “bringing back our jobs, bringing back our dreams and making America wealthy again.” That Trump was surrounded by coalminers as he made yesterday’s announcement says it all. The White House proclaims that this is “put[ting] our coalminers back to work”. Get real.

Let’s be clear: this is not about workers. Wonder why businesses are ‘flooding back’, as Trump would say, to the US? Wonder why there is such a focus on coal? The corporates at the helm of these monstrous trans-national corporations are in Trump’s pocket. Indeed, this predatory capitalism has infected the very heart of the White House; many of the patriarchs in Trump’s cabinet are classic revolving door capitalists. As Democrat Sheldon Whitehouse (ironic!) puts it, “The most voracious and malign special interest in American politics – the fossil fuel industry – has captured the Trump administration” and is fighting anything and everything “that gets in the way of its profits.” This assault on environmental protection is part of a wider picture: taxes for wealthy individuals and businesses are plummeting; crucial regulations built over many years to protect the global economy and environment are being hacked away with bloodthirsty viciousness; workers’ rights are being decimated with alarming speed; inequality is becoming more profound (I wonder why…). Trump and his wealthy friends are ruling America, they’re ruling the world, and it is ordinary people globally that will suffer, for generations.

I joined the Green Party a fortnight ago because I care about our planet (and the Labour Party has become painfully ineffective opposition, but that’s for another time). A world-leading economy must be green and sustainable to survive. As economist Laurence Tubiana of the European Climate Foundation rightly put it yesterday, if it passes through the courts, this executive order “will hurt the vast majority of Americans as it will propel the economy backwards so it resembles something from the 19th century.” The regression is remarkable. The bigotry emanating from the White House is not something to banter about over pints or coffee. No, this is something civil society should absolutely be protesting against. As I have said, these measures will have an impact far beyond the shores of the states, and as a Briton, I fear that Theresa May’s substanceless, shambolic government will join the club. After all, we have the disgrace that is Liam Fox as International Trade Secretary. This fear is legitimised if one looks at how far we have trodden down the fateful path of neoliberalism so far. We must not accept this.

The beast of capitalism has slid under most noses for too long, but now it is exhibited within the White House for all to see. Trump and his team are not ‘maniacs’, the world has not ‘gone mad’. No these people know exactly what they are doing, and they love such escapist labels. It is precisely us, civil society, that must stop them in their tracks with this loud and clear message: you may have ruled the world until now, but no longer.

A Labour Party in pieces

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We all knew that there would be a political fall out in the event of a Brexit, but we never expected it to be this sudden and extreme. The Labour Party is crumbling before our eyes, disintegrating into chaos, and its very own leader is at the epicentre of it all.

In a dead of night development yesterday morning that shocked us all – particularly those of us still awake at 1.30am – Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn sacked his Shadow Foreign Secretary Hilary Benn, responding to rumours that he was plotting a coup. Indeed, Labour MPs Dame Margaret Hodge and Ann Coffey have already submitted a vote of no confidence against him, which Corbyn rejected on Monday night at a meeting of the PLP. A vote will be held tomorrow.

By 6am, Shadow a Health Secretary Heidi Alexander had resigned, demanding fresh leadership. And by midday, Labour’s youth policy chief in the Shadow Cabinet Gloria de Piero had also handed in her notice, calling for fresh leadership following Corbyn’s “lacklustre” campaign to remain in the European Union.

The prominently vocal Shadow Commons leader Chris Bryant was the eleventh and final Labour MP of the day to desert the front bench.

Today, well over half of the Shadow Cabinet resigned, leading to fresh suspicion that Mr Corbyn’s leadership will not last much longer.

The sacking of Benn and subsequent walk outs have been underpinned by a hostile discontent among Labour MPs, supporters and for that matter the majority of the Stronger In campaign at the way in which the party’s leader went about campaigning. Corbyn is known to be one of the most Eurosceptic Labour leaders ever to take office, and his half-hearted direction of the Labour Remain campaign was highlighted with the Labour heartlands of Wales and the North-East voting to leave.

Today, Chris Bryant suggested that it was likely that Mr Corbyn had even voted Leave, a stark departure from his party’s line and his public position.

 

Hence, Benn was certainly not alone on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday morning in saying: “There is no confidence that we will win a general election as long as Jeremy is leader”.

In tears, Angela Eagle admitted on today’s World at One programme that she had no confidence in Corbyn and called for his resignation.

Corbyn shook the hydraulics of Britain through his triumphant leadership campaign nine months ago. The outpouring of united support from millions of Labour Party members, many of them young people, was truly magnificent. But those who elected him were voting for a man of integrity, a man with rigorous beliefs and moral values, but what they’ve found is that it just has not worked.

It fact, it is hard to remember a time in the past nine months when the Labour Party has actually been united on a single issue – flash back to September 2015 when Corbyn sparked outrage at not singing the national anthem, and later that month the then Shadow a Defence Secretary Maria Eagle backlashed over his comments on nuclear disarmament.

Or in October when 21 backbenchers rejected Corbyn’s anti-austerity economic policy proposals, and Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell’s admittedly shambolic handling of the issue. Then of course came the vote on British air strikes in Syria, another instance when Hilary Benn operated on a separate agenda to Corbyn, a pacifist, presenting an image of a Labour Party torn at the seams.

However, it was an explosive mixture from the start – a party still populated by MPs immersed in New Labour policy, relics of the Blair and Brown Labour ‘heyday’, being infiltrated by the more radical socialist leadership of Corbyn and McDonnell. This new far-left leadership couldn’t have been displayed any more vividly than when McDonnell quoted Chairman Mao’s Little Red Book at the House of Commons dispatch box on November 25, leaving voters to wonder whether he can really be entrusted with control over the finances of our country, if elected in 2020.

And this is the major question – is the Labour Party really electable under Corbyn and McDonnell? After all, this scramble to oust Corbyn is all designed to achieve a Labour government in the next general election, although it may be that the country’s next leader is decided by 150,000 members of the Tory party in October, with the next general election taking place as planned in four years time.

It is important to acknowledge that, as John McDonnell put it yesterday morning: “Jeremy was elected with the biggest mandate of any British politician”. And cabinet members Diane Abbott, Emily Thornberry and even Corbyn’s leadership rival Andy Burnham have today expressed their support for their leader, emphasising solidarity for the electorate above internal party politics. They are echoed by 180,000 others signing a petition in support.

So Corbyn is supported by a vast amount of his party, but on the other hand has divided it also. Currently, I would argue that no the Labour Party is not electable. But as one member of the North Yorkshire town of Wetherby said on the news yesterday night: “He’s only been in job nine months; we need to give him time.”

The saying “in office but not in charge” could quite easily be applied to Jeremy Corbyn’s current situation. But he has said he’s going nowhere, and in the uncertain political climate of the present day, perhaps the topple of another party leader really isn’t the best way to harmonise a country that has been remorselessly polarised in recent months.

Words by Ewan Somerville

Jo Cox, the “wonderful woman”

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It’s easy to get carried away with the events of recent weeks, but today we were reminded of the harsh reality of the democracy that we live in. Jo Cox was only 41, elected last year as Labour MP for the North Yorkshire constituency of Batley and Spen. She was a wife, mother of two children and had the world at her feet. As we’ve seen today, her light burned too bright for some to handle, but some lights cannot be extinguished.

The media often just turn an event like this into a headline, a story, a package. But for me and so many others, this is different. There was something very special about Jo; although she was everything a politician should be – proud, fearless and convictive, she was also bright, bubbly and beautiful. She was “always wanting to listen”, as a constituent of hers described, and she died having just listened to and helped others at a drop-in constituency surgery.

“RATHER THAN BECOMING KNOWN THROUGH SCANDAL, CONTROVERSY AND HEADLINES, SHE ENACTED REAL CHANGE”

The unutterable words of her political colleagues highlight what an incredible woman she was. In the words of the Prime Minister, “We’ve lost a bright star”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn added, “We’ve lost a wonderful woman, a wonderful MP”. Yvette Cooper described her as “One of liveliest, bravest & most passionate MPs”. And the Home Secretary echoed many of our sentiments, expressing how “all of us are united in deep sadness.”

I have never seen journalist Nick Robinson so shaken on television as he was on the BBC News at Six tonight. As he put it: “People like me are paid to find the right words to describe, to analyse and to explain when this happens, but today I find it very hard to find the words. Jo Cox was in politics for the right thing – for other people.”

I never met Jo, but she has and always will inspire me. Having read intently about her, I can confidently say that she was no career politician. Rather than becoming known through scandal, controversy and headlines, she enacted real change, made a difference, stood up daringly for what she believed in – and that was before she even became a Member of Parliament.

“SHE STOOD DARINGLY FOR WHAT SHE BELIEVED IN”

The first in her family to go to university, she progressed from Heckmonwike Grammar School to Pembroke College, Cambridge to pursue a degree in social and political science. In an interview at Christmas, she told fellow “Yorkshire lass” Kate Proctor, Westminster Correspondent for the Yorkshire Post, that her Cambridge venture “knocked me for about five years,” having first realised that one’s upbringing shaped how they were perceived.

Nevertheless, she excelled academically and graduated in 1995, going on to study at the London School of Economics before starting to make tracks in politics, feeding the inquisitive political mind that she had developed throughout her education.

She began her career working as a political advisor, initially in Parliament to Joan Whalley, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, and then for two years in Brussels advising Glenys Kinnock MEP. Meanwhile, she helped found Britain in Europe, a pro-European campaign organisation. But she also had a passion for the world around her; she wanted to improve the lives of others.

She decided to embark on a decade-long humanitarian mission, working for charities such as the aid agency Oxfam, Save the Children and NSPCC across the world in some of the most war-torn countries – areas of which most of us steer clear. She wasn’t afraid – rather, her blazing determination saw her challenge discrimination, suffering and poverty, liberating those for whom every day is a struggle. They may not have heard the news yet, but I’ve no doubt that in the coming days they will be looking to the sky, expressing their gratitude.

Her unique glow came into its element throughout this decade, as her work with Oxfamsaw her occupy the roles head of policy, head of humanitarian campaigning, and head of the charity’s European office in Brussels. It was whilst working over a New Year period at an orphan camp in Bosnia that Jo met her husband Brendan, who works for the UN.

Jo then worked alongside Gordon Brown’s wife Sarah on her Maternal Mortality Campaign, also spending four years as national chair of the Labour Women’s Network. She became patron of the GREAT Foundation, collaborated with Bill and Melinda Gates and tackled modern slavery in her role with The Freedom Fund.

Jo stood in her own right, deciding then to embrace her real dream of representing the community in which she was “made”. Since being elected as an MP for a number of quaint but vital industrial Yorkshire villages and towns in 2015, she has stood passionately in Parliament challenging the government on issues such as foreign policy, international development, the refugee crisis, social isolation and early years development.

“WE HAVE FAR MORE IN COMMON THAN THINGS THAT DIVIDE US”

Committed to improving the lives of all, but particularly those in her constituency, she outlined her remarkable ambitions in her Commons maiden speech last June. She said: “While we celebrate our diversity, what surprises me…is that we are far more united and have far more in common with each other than things that divide us”.

And what a career she had ahead of her. She demonstrated her witty flare in deciding to live between her constituency home and a barge on the Thames, the scene of numerous ‘gatherings’ at which she and her female colleagues would debate.

Jo Cox wasn’t in Westminster for the thrill of it. She was there to initiate real, effective, long-lasting change, and no one could get in her way. As Max Lawson of Oxfam best described her: “Jo was a diminutive pocket rocket from the north. She was as a ball of energy, always smiling, full of new ideas, of idealism, of passion.”

Whether from Yorkshire, the north, a Labour Party member, an activist, a victim of war in the Middle East, a friend, a colleague or  a dear family member, Jo was special to us all in different ways. If she hadn’t yet improved your life, she was about to, and was destined to pursue a career in Parliament equally as inspirational as her ever-prominent one in humanity.

Jo is a light that burns on; vibrant, refreshing and endurant. Nothing was impossible to her, but one thing definitely is – her legacy cannot be tainted because, as she might have said it: “Flippin’ ‘eck! It’s a good ‘un”.

Words by Ewan Somerville

EU Ref: Interview with Julie Girling MEP

I filmed this interview with Julie Girling, MEP for South West England and Gibraltar, following an EU debate in North Devon.

This was published for polify.co.uk, a brand new local political engagement project, designed to reach out to all demographics, especially young people, using modern, unique, and innovative methods.

It’s time to rethink mental health

North Devon Journal, April 2016

Young people in Britain are the victims of a mental health crisis, and those in the South West are some of the hardest hit. New government proposals pledge to ignite change, but what is the reality of this scandal?

In light of a new damning independent taskforce report on the mental health provision provided by the NHS, David Cameron has urged people to focus their attention on the issue.

The ‘Five Year Forward View’ report found that one in 10 children aged 5-16 in Britain have a diagnosable mental health problem, and conduct disorder is the most common. This condition doubles the chance of children leaving school without qualifications and means they are 20 times more likely to end up behind bars.

The report also found that unnecessary suicidal deaths reached a record high in 2014 – at nearly 5,000 – and represent the greatest cause of death for those aged 15-49.

Furthermore it said “most children and young people get no support”, and the lucky few currently have a 32 week wait for routine psychological therapy appointments.

This is incredibly upsetting, particularly for myself, knowing that too many others my age are suffering behind closed doors, even after they’ve tried to open them.

Dubbed the ‘Cinderella service’ of the NHS, mental health care costs the economy £105bn a year, roughly the cost of the entire NHS.

In practice, the NHS spends a mere £9.2bn on the sector each year. Following the recommendations of the report, the Prime Minister is pledging an extra £1bn to the sector by 2020-21.

David Cameron said: “We have not done enough to end the stigma of mental health” and added the country has “focused a lot on physical health”, but not sufficiently on mental health. Perhaps, Mr Cameron, we should have been “frank” six years ago? These measures are cold comfort for the thousands of families whose members’ lives have been “put on hold or ruined”, as the report considers, through the lack of basic care for the mentally ill.

Young people facing acute mental health issues currently have three possible destinations: a specialist treatment centre, an accident and emergency department, or a police cell. Figures from the Department of Health highlight that on 52 days since April 1 2015, there were no beds available at these local centres. It’s been found that as a consequence, 10 out of the 18 NHS trusts that provided data on the issue had sent children more than 150 miles away from home for crisis care.

Liberal Democrat MP and former Health Minister Norman Lamb, who has personal experience of mental health, said “it is extremely distressing for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis to be sent far from home, just to get the treatment they need. It is essential that there are beds available for those who need them.”

NHS statistics also show that the number of children going to A&E with psychiatric conditions has doubled to nearly 20,000 a year since 2011. One young sufferer recently told Inside Out South West that A&E is “very exposed, incredibly vulnerable and very unsafe.”

However as Dr Anne Hicks, an emergency medicine consultant at Derriford Hospital in Plymouth, explained, this is a chain of failures. With the specialist treatment centers at full capacity, young people are taken to A&E for therapy. But with A&E no longer able to cope with the demand, the pressure is shifted to the police. Last year over 160 young people in the South West were detained in police cells under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act. In most of these cases, there was nowhere else for the patients to go.

Devon and Cornwall Police had the highest incidence of these detentions, and last year the Crime Commissioner for the force wrote to NHS bosses explaining that this situation cannot continue. He said that in future the police would take these young people to A&E instead.

Clearly, the system is at breaking point and the government’s proposed £1bn investment is unlikely to go far. So what is the solution?

It begins by raising awareness and tackling the stigma attached to mental health; charities such as Mind and Rethink Mental Illness work endlessly to achieve this.

Years & Years front man Olly Alexander recently opened up about his battles with anxiety in an interview with the Guardian. As one young fan put it: “Just talking about it has allowed people who are affected to feel more comfortable – to feel they’re not alone.”

Perhaps, when more of society supports these young people, the government will too.

By Ewan Somerville | @ewansomerville

Short Film: RNLI Lifeguards

I voluntarily shot this short film for North Devon Moving Image in September 2014 to showcase the brilliant work of the work the RNLI Lifeguards do nationally. This was filmed on one morning at Croyde Beach and I also composed the music. Please give it a watch and share!

Broomhill Friery sent free portions of chips to a student house party last night

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Imagine it’s half past midnight at your student house party, everyone’s had one too many lagers and the drunk munchies are kicking in. Then, from out of nowhere, masses of free chips arrive.

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INTERVIEW: Forge speaks to Green Party leader Caroline Lucas

See this published for Forge Press.

Ewan Somerville, Online News Editor of Forge Press, had a chat with the co-leader of the Green Party Caroline Lucas about a range of issues facing university students and the future of her party. Here’s the interview in full!

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Council marks 100 years of women’s vote by focusing on gender inequality today

See this published for Forge Press.

The Students’ Union and members of Sheffield City Council have commemorated the centenary of women gaining the right to vote.

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