Though Labour tries to portray Jeremy Corbyn as a strong leader, under his tenure, it hasn't successfully or cleanly dealt with many of its own internal issues. There's been a slowly bubbling scandal around antisemitism for quite some time, and infrequent-but-persistent infighting, with Momentum often mentioned as causative culprits. The effects of this internal disorganisation and lack of discipline are plain to see on a day-to-day level, and there have been many divergences between what Jeremy Corbyn says is Labour policy, and what his shadow ministers will say. If I'm not convinced that he can competently run his party and heal it's internal division, then it's hard to be convinced that he can competently win an election campaign and go on to run the country, and heal it in the post-Brexit period.
It should be noted that the same issues exist within the Conservative party too; it has a problem with islamophobia (maybe xenophobia and jingoism too), and the ERG is a divisive party-within-a-party just like Momentum is.
Speaking of Brexit, Labour has dithered and dathered on what their policy actually is. If there's one thing that's obvious about Brexit, it's that many people and businesses in the UK (and outside of it) would massively benefit from certainty... yet Labour has flip-flopped between various stances, none of which have been definitive and easy to grasp.
While I appreciate that the debate is nuanced (something the Tories missed when they decided to run a yes/no referendum), Labour's indecisiveness to settle on a position has meant that they haven't provided a cohesive alternative to the Tory government, which has contributed to them failing to provide an effective opposition which can hold the government to account. I mentioned this above too, but it's been especially apparent and important throughout the Brexit crisis.
Their current policy is to have a referendum on any deal that the UK Government does negotiate. I like the idea of a referendum, but only because I hope that it would stop Brexit altogether. I think the process of yet another referendum (presumably after the election?) would be hugely tiring and divisive.
As of a few days ago, the Labour party was still actively taking submissions for what should go in it's 2019 manifesto, which isn't exactly encouraging considering that it's already November, and the election takes place in about a month.
Apart from that though, their website has lots of policies that sound good; Labour wants to strike a Green New Deal (essentially upgrading the country to run sustainably, bringing lots of investment and jobs), increase the National Living Wage to £10 an hour and ban fracking. It's also worth noting that a Labour Government would also put more money into basically all public facing government services. Of course, this includes the police service like the Tories want to fund, and their website implies that they'll invest a similar amount into it too (though Jeremy doesn't bluster about that anywhere near as much as Boris does).
This is the first post in my series on UK political parties during the lead-up to the 2019 UK General Election, which will look at the Conservative Party.
I'm going to split my analysis of the Convservative Party into three separate parts:
Conservative Economic Record
Despite the Tories' reputation as a pro-business party which puts the economy first, it's not clear to me that this promise has really been delivered on over the last nine years since they came to power. While stock brokers may argue that "past performance is no guarantee of future results", I'd say that it's exactly this line of thinking that produced today's United Kingdom (take from that what you will).
"The economy" is a nebulous and abstract concept, which I find hard to talk about in ways that are actually meaningful on a level relevant to an individual, rational voter. While the economy has 'grown' under Tory stewardship, I'm hardly convinced that it's done so in a way that still enforces the traditional social contract under which conservatives often claim to operate; where everyone has the chance to get on in life and to go as far as their own talent and hard work can take them.
Why is that? Well, the current way that society in the UK operates makes it easy for people who are already rich to get richer, and it makes it hard for people that are poor to get less poor; a far cry from a meritocracy. For example, having a normal job and earning a salary will allow you to survive and make money in the modern economy, but being rich allows you to own assets (property, businesses, stocks), letting you to make money while doing nothing. Crucially, unlike a job, assets are almost infinitely parallelizable since you can just buy as many as you can afford. Since assets generate money, this means rich people can grow their wealth more quickly and easily than poor people can.
By stimulating businesses and implementing austerity policies, the Tory Party has succeeded in growing GDP, but they appear to have failed to ensure that living standards have kept up and failed to ensure that the spoils of this economic growth have been equally divided. While making public services more efficient is a great idea, the UK is a welfare state whether you like it or not. This means that the system is set up so that people are expected to rely on the state in times of need, which causes lots of problems for them (and everybody else) when austerity means those services are not provided.
Lets not forget; the economy is a means, not an end. For me, that end is providing a good quality of life for every citizen in the country, having a fair and equal country and maintaining the international standing of the UK as a powerful force for good on the world stage. This is not equivalent to arbitrarily increasing GDP (here's a good podcast on that).
My argument is, that even if the Tories aren't completely responsible for what's written above, they've been in power for better part of a decade and they're certainly partly culpable for the the above state of affairs.
Of course, thus far, I've only talked about economic policy, which is just a single aspect of governance among many. However, in my view, one massive reason not to vote Conservative in the coming election is because a vote for them, is a vote towards the party that called for the Brexit referendum in the first place.
Brexiteers, don't be alarmed; this isn't a criticism of the decision to leave the European Union, it's a criticism of how the decision was taken. When I first heard that "Brexit was a Tory project", I was rather taken aback, until it was pointed out to me that it was a Conservative government that called the referendum in 2016 (in part to avoid losing votes to UKIP at the time), and a Conservative government that decided on how the referendum was to be run (a yes/no question was a massive failure in hindsight since it wasn't anywhere near specific enough to actually be implemented), and a Conservative government that triggered Article 50, putting a two year deadline on getting a deal, which thus far, hasn't turned out very well for anybody.
No matter where you stand on the Brexit debate, I think it's hard to argue that the Conservatives ran the whole thing well so far. If anything, Brexit has laid bare the rotten power structures, warring sub-factions and mis-aligned incentives within the party. In my view, to vote for the Tory Party in its current form, is to vote for sub-par governance borne of selfish and short-sighted political gain.
If you look on the Conservative website, it's clear what the party's answer is to all of the above; it's Boris. Because quite literally, the website is all about him. Their front page is literally a full-page video of Boris, with six pictures of Boris further down the page, and literally no pictures of anybody else.
Rather than their policies for the upcoming election in one month, the first link in their header is an invitation to 'Meet Boris', which actually consists of a letter from him and what appears to be his CV (and a rather selective one at that):
To be fair, there are four rather concrete policies that the Conservatives want to push; safer streets, a stronger economy, better schools and more money for the NHS (as well as Brexit, obviously). Compared to certain other parties, that's refreshingly simple.
However, I'm not convinced. Without doing a deep dive, lets look briefly at each:
Police: The Tories want to make streets safer by hiring 20,000 more police officers. The big assumption here is that adding 20,000 more police to the streets (about 17% more officers than today) will make the UK's streets safe.
I think that's a stretch; frontline policing on it's own won't solve London's knife crime problem, the 'county lines' drug running gangs, human trafficking, or any of the other issues that this policy implicitly aims to tackle. They all require a broad and holistic approach, across many sectors and services to prevent the causes of crime, rather than simply more bobbies on the beat to catch people in the act.
Economy: I wrote about this above, but a vote for the Tories is a vote for consistency with the last ten years when it comes to the economy. This amounts to the 'safe option' when it comes to GDP, but a very iffy option when it comes to how that wealth is distributed among the population. After all, maybe reducing inequality would reduce the need for 20,000 more police.
Schools: Most of the parties in this election have 'better schools' on their agenda, I don't think the Tories really differentiate themselves there.
The NHS: All of the parties are scrambling to make (somewhat questionably hyped) claims about how they'll fund the NHS, I don't think the Tories differentiate themselves here either.
To sum up, I can think of two good reasons to vote for the Conservatives; if you want a hard Brexit like they're going for and aren't perturbed by how they've handled it so far, or if you simply are happy with how the country has been governed over the last ten years, and want that to continue.
I think a lot of the Tory approach to the election revolves around the charisma and character of Boris Johnson, which would be excusable, if they had the policies to back it up, but as said above, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Finally, I do think that the Conservative Party has played a large role in bringing about the Brexit crisis, something that has been hugely destructive, damaging, and embarrassing for the nation. In my view, that heavily weighs against them going into the next general election.
UK politics is incredibly complicated at the moment, dominated by a single issue (of course, Brexit), yet dogged by many others that in more normal times, could classify as era defining by themselves (think inequality, the climate crisis, possible break-up of The Union via Scottish independence, international affairs such as the war in Syria, etc).
But as the country is attempting to grapple with these problems, it has also become increasingly evident that are also problems with the UK's system of governance. The election in 2019 will be the third general election since 2015, during which time we also had two leadership contests within the incumbent Conservative party, three prime-ministers, and of course, one very big referendum. There have been extraordinary occurrences in Parliament, with MP's using both newly invented and almost forgotten political devices to try to hold an increasingly recalcitrant executive branch to account, making our lack of a written constitution increasingly apparent.
I'm not sure if it's sensible for me to try to speculate on why all this has come to pass, but I think it is fair game to look at the current political landscape as it stands today, and examine where each party might stand in the coming general election. So, I'm writing a series of blog posts looking at most political fractions inside the UK parliament from my perspective as an English voter. I intend it to be an analysis for myself as much as for anybody else; I'll need to make a decision on the 12th of December, and I'd like to make a considered one.
I'll take each major party that's running in England; that's the Conservative Party, the Labour party, the Liberal Democrat party, the Green Party and the Brexit party, and discuss how they stand in the coming election. Since I'm looking from an English perspective, I won't take into account parties from other countries, such as the SNP, the DUP, Plaid Cymru, etc.
The posts will appear below as I write them:
It's my first time writing content like this, and to be honest, my first time taking such an in-depth look at each party. I expect that to shine through in the content, though I hope that the end result will remain useful and that I learn a lot along the way.
My life got more busy lately since I started a masters degree, perhaps it's not the best time to start a blog. But, as the headmaster at my high school would cheekily remark, "if you want something doing, give it to a busy person" (often at the end of a conversation to parents about homework allocation).
In order to make the blog successful, it needs to have content. I think if I try to make each new post as good as I can, then this blog will remain decidedly empty. I aim to embrace the maxim that 'perfection is the enemy of good' and strive to improve the quality blog, at least initially, by simply getting content out there, and getting into the habit of getting stuff down.
Actually, there's a fun anecdote about this; a university professor once split their photography class in two; one half would be graded on the number of photos they produced, and the other on the composition of a single photo that they would select and submit. At the end of the course, the best photos were all from the 'quantity' side of the class, since they had spent lots of time practicing their skills, while the 'quality' side of the class mostly theorised about the best approach, and didn't actually learn as much. There's a more in-depth blog post about that here.
That's not to say that I'd like to post complete junk, I hope each post will have a central theme and something meaningful that I'd like to say as the basis behind it.
If you want to skip to the tutorial, click here.
Soon after starting at university, I started to become frustrated with the rather poor quality of the lecture slides we would have to revise from. Though all the information was there, and it was (mostly) perfectly clear if you attended all the lectures, when it came to revising for the exams, it was hard to figure out what exactly was happening from the lecture slides themselves.
Thus, I started to make my own notes and flashcards, which I put online after each of my courses was finished. To my very pleasant surprise, other students at Manchester started to use them for revision too. This is very visible from the large spikes in traffic that my website receives during every exam period.
This makes me really, really happy, but with great happiness comes a little bit of responsibility. Since so many students are using my notes to revise and learn, any mistakes in the notes (and there are likely quite a few) could be propagated onto them, which nobody wants. Furthermore, some of the courses have changed and the material has become out of date, argh!
Since my notes are 100% open source, I've always hoped that they would become living documents, and students would update the notes as they found mistakes, or thought of improvements. While I do typically receive a few changes per year, I think there's a very low ratio of eyes-on-page to proposed-amendments, and I'd like to improve that. I recognise that many students, having just come to university, might not be familiar with LaTeX, or with Git or with how pull requests work, so this is my effort to help students contribute.
So, what follows is my guide on how to submit a pull request to my notes, from start to finish.
I'll split the tutorial into three parts; the structure of my notes repositories, how to edit the notes, and how to submit a PR.How my notes are structured
As of writing, my bachelor's degree notes are split into three repositories on GitHub, corresponding to each year I spent at university. The repositories can be found here, here and here. In this tutorial, I'll use my first year notes as an example, but the other two repositories are similar.
I'll assume that you have a terminal set up that you can type Git commands into. If you've not heard of version control or Git before, perhaps read this intro before continuing.
If you want to make changes to the notes, the first step is to fork the repository. To do that, you need to open the repository in your web-browser and hit the 'fork' button in the top-right corner. This will create a copy of my repository under your GitHub account, that you can make edits to Eventually, you'll send me a request to pull your edits back into the original repository (and that request, is the pull request).
Once you've forked the repository, you'll need to download it to your machine before you can make any changes. To do that, you should run the following command, but replacing `Todd-Davies' with your username so that you download your copy of the repository:
$ git clone https://github.com/Todd-Davies/first-year-notes.git
Now, if you run cd first-year-notes and then run ls, you'll see the structure of the notes directory:
> COMP10120 COMP11212 COMP15111 COMP18112 setup
> COMP11120_1 COMP12111 COMP16121 README.rst
> COMP11120_2 COMP14112 COMP16212 page_count.sh
Each of the COMP* sub-directories contain the source for one of my notes files, and as you can probably guess, they're named after the course code for that course.
Lets see what's inside one of the course subdirectories. I'll cd into one of them, then see what's inside:
$ cd COMP15111
> build.sh notes.pdf
> content.tex notes.tex
> drawstack.sty packages.tex
> flashcards rm_extras.sh
> kindle.pdf tcolorbox.sty
> kindle.tex two_box_model_diagram.pdf
> meta.tex two_box_model_diagram.tex
How to make a change, and build the PDF files
That's a lot of files, and most of them aren't relevant for the basics. The most important thing to know, is that the content goes inside the .tex files, and the output is in the .pdf files. The actual notes usually live in the content.tex file. In order to convert the tex files into pdf files, then you need to either run a command called pdflatex, or run the build script that's usually provided (later versions of my notes should use makefiles) ./build.sh.
I'm not going to go into editing the LaTeX code now, because that would make a long post already longer than it is, but to get your feet wet, try making a change to some text, saving the file, compiling the code using the build script, and viewing the updated output in a PDF viewer (your web browser should do the trick).How to make a change in Git, and push to GitHub
Once you've done that, if you run git status, you should see output similar to the following:
$ git status
On branch master
Your branch is up to date with 'origin/master'.
Changes not staged for commit:
(use "git add (file)..." to update what will be committed)
(use "git checkout -- (file)..." to discard changes in working directory)
no changes added to commit (use "git add" and/or "git commit -a")
As Git says, the next step is to make a commit with the files we changed! Lets do that, and then push back up to the repository we forked on Github.
$ git commit -a -m 'My first commit'
$ git push origin master
Note that most of the courses have a section for contributors; please do add yourself in there if you do some editing, however small!
How to make a Pull Request (PR)
Now, if you go back to the repository you made in GitHub, and click on 'Pull Requests' in the tabs, then you should be able to see a 'New pull request' button on the top right side:
If you click the button, you'll be taken to the UI, where you can actually send the PR to me.
Now, I'll get an email that you sent me a PR, and within a few days (hopefully!), I'll take a look and either merge the PR into the codebase (which will automatically make the updated versions of the notes available on my website), or give you some feedback if we should make some changes before we merge.
If you'd like to see examples of previous PR's, then you can look here.
Finally, studying CS is hard, revising is hard, exams are hard, writing LaTeX is hard, putting all the knowledge you've learnt into coherent sentences so that other people can understand it is also... hard. So first off, if you do get around to making a PR, then you have my sincere gratitude for the effort, and second, I promise to be friendly, and will spend the time with you to help with any part of the process if required. If you have any problems, feel free to email me!
The internet has gotten a lot of flak recently for facilitating information pollution via the World Wide Web, which is a shame, since the internet is also an incredible force for good in the world.
I recently realised how much I love looking at what people produce online. It's easy for me to spend lots of time looking at aggregated content on Hacker News and Lobste.rs, in part, because it's rich in stuff that represents the best of the web; highly heterogeneous content from individual creators who are passionate about what they're doing. In particular, Drew De Vault's blog and work is a good example of content I highly value, and Jamie Tanna's post on the indie web helped motivate me to start the blog.
Conveniently, I do a lot of journaling and note taking as it stands; I keep a gratitude journal, a philosophy journal, write notes on lectures and papers for my university studies, and keep track of other random assortments. I hope that the additional effort required to translate the content into a blog and make it accessible to all is low enough that I can post fairly regularly, and enjoy the process.
Here's to blogging!