The Political X Factor

It is the general view that the UK is a democratic country, whose government is built upon electorate representation and the response to popular grievances. This is why we have referendums, we vote for our MP and are able to express dissatisfaction with policy through protests and petitions. This may be so, but there are conventions in Parliament taint any aspect of democracy.

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The fundamental example of this is seen in the use of parliamentary Whips in the Commons. Whips are a name given to ministers whom ensure MPs’ align their votes on legislation with the party’s guidelines, known as ‘toeing the party line’. These Whips essentially circulate their party’s MPs before votes on major pieces of legislation, and observe the voting doors to pressurise MPs into voting as advised. It can be argued that this ensures cohesion of politicians within a political party and creates unity on key issues debated in Parliament. The Chief Whip, currently Julian Smith, has official residence at 12 Downing Street, showing the close knit relationship between party leaders and the Whip’s office. Ensuring MPs are abiding by the hypothesis of the current party manifesto would make sense if the representation of the electorate did not hang in the balance.

Surely disregarding constituents and voting on vital, life changing legislation purely to appease one’s party is inherently undemocratic and extinguishes all attempts at representation our political system seeks to implement. It is no use voting for an MP to address your grievances in Parliament if they do not use their position in the Commons to be the voice of their constituency. After questioning my local MP, Steve Baker, he commented how all MPs are torn between ‘their conscience, their constituents and their country’. To me, there is no contest. Why bother having 650 MPs for all constituencies in the UK if they are not all going to be mechanisms for representative democracy? MPs who do not obey Whips are labelled as ‘rebels’ in Parliament. The negative connotations to this reference are unfit. It should not be seen as rebellious to listen to popular grievances and vote on legislation according to what your constituents desire, whom elected you in the first place.

Clearly, politics is no longer a selfless career; the advancement of a party and achieving a large majority in general elections is the main objective of modern political parties. Surely having the best manifesto to suit the public at that particular time is the most significant aspect of democracy. Responding to the public is what Parliament appear to have at the top of their agenda, but the competitive drive behind politicians is something that cannot be overlooked any longer. It should not be a matter of choice between two polar opposite parties, constituents should feel they can relate to their elected MP and the policies they seek to implement in their particular region, which will inevitably differ from others.

It is clear that true democracy cannot be achieved whilst party Whips are still in operation in our parliament. This fashions a dictator-like government which alienates the electorate from the decision making process. A so-called ‘political X factor’ is seen in the workings of Parliament, making the main objective of the political parties a competition-like triumph, rather than democratic representation of the people.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney

Why Grammar Schools are the Worst Thing Ever

As you may know, Theresa May loves Grammar schools and wants to introduce more as part of her 2017 manifesto pledge. I myself go to a Grammar School and live in a constituency where the 11+ is a huge make or break in a young person’s life (or it is perceived to be that way). Some may say it is hypocritical of me to attend a Grammar school whilst I’m sat here ready to bash them, but it is for that very essence that they are detrimental; by being the ‘better option’, Grammar schools are essentially destroying kids’ social mobility and chances to a great education.

Firstly, it is an extreme amount of pressure to put on children as young as 10 years old. I have been helping my little brother with tuition in preparation for his 11+ test this year, whereby he has gotten so upset and frustrated over the possibility of failing, due to the immense superiority Grammar schools appear to have over comprehensives. Similar to the SATs uproar earlier this year, it is unbelievably unfair to engrain the idea that if you do not pass the 11+ you have ‘failed’. This perception gives young children a negative view of education, making them less likely to reach their full potential. In conjunction with the SATs debate, children flourish at different rates, and it is hasty to section children off as ‘smart enough’ to attend Grammar schools and promotes a sense of educational elitism from a young age.

This essence of educational elitism withstands as you inspect pupils of Grammar Schools. Being a Grammar school student for the past 6 years, it must be said that remarks regarding local Comprehensive students as more poorly educated have circulated. The worst part about this is that it is true (which I will come to later), but the fact that students visually recognise this and in some cases, gives them a sense of self- aggrandisement, is inhibiting our young peoples’ tolerance.

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It has to be mentioned that the majority of Grammar School students are middle class, due to their ability to afford tuition in order for them to pass the 11+. This in itself separates those with and without money, and then brings in social elitism and class as an issue of Grammar Schools. The physical separation between classes promotes a lack of social mobility as working class and middle class pupils are less able to mix and are less likely to respect each other. Not only this but it literally puts a price on a better education; the fact is that families with money are more likely to have a child pass the 11+ than a family without money, with a child of the same ability. Is it me, or is that a bit fucked up? Having free schools seems all great on the surface but once again, nothing comes for free in good old Britain. This kind of thing stays with kids for the rest of their lives and will encourage a less cooperative and equality- driven nation. It has to be said that not all Grammar school students are middle class but it usually is the majority.

Now, to touch upon what I mentioned earlier; Grammar Schools do provide a better education, and this is what makes them the worst thing ever. Teachers are more attracted to work at schools with pupils who want to learn and would be easier to teach, which is the general case with Grammar School pupils. This means that better teaching staff are usually employed by Grammar Schools, and Comprehensives have the left overs. Bit shit isn’t it? So first of all these students ‘fail’ the 11+ and have a downgraded view of education and then they get the crappier teachers who hardly motivate them to find a love for learning. It is like the education system sets up anyone not in the top 10% (when they were 10 years old may I reiterate) for a poor education.

My sister who is 16, goes to a Comprehensive school and has virtually no student support system when it comes to her studies. I compared her school to mine in this aspect, whereby the Grammar school I attend offers subject drop-in sessions at lunch, revision workshops for exams and practically spoon-feeds how to get into university. My sister’s Comprehensive has none of this. I am not bashing Grammar Schools to sound ungrateful, believe me, my school has provided me with a great education, but I cannot ignore the fact that it is extremely unfair for this level of support for students to only be available to the ‘top 10%’, when there are so many pupils prevented from fulfilling their potential due to the UK’s schooling.

Now, I don’t want to make Grammar School kids look like the villain here, because they too suffer the side effects of our poisoned education system. The immense pressure put on students at my school is horrific; it is not even enforced in order to motivate students, it is purely for statistics. This year my school disabled all students who did not get a D grade in their AS exams to carry on the subject to A2. A levels are fucking hard so this rule affected around 20% of pupils. This meant that some girls had to retake the year at another school or only do 1 or 2 A levels, corrupting the future plans of many. This doesn’t sound too drastic but it is more the fact that the school only did this to obtain a high ranking and favourable grade statistics. Despite the fact my school has an immense support system in terms of academia, this is blatantly motivated by the idea of better results. This said pressure has resulted in mental health issues across the ages, mostly regarding stress and anxieties revolving around exams, soothed by the unhelpful voice of a single school councillor who simply reiterates to “take time to yourself”.

My solution: scrap them. Every single school should have the resources Grammar schools provide, and this should not be inhibited by class, money or a stupid exam that measures a 10 year old child’s intellect. Why enforce an ideology of educational elitism when it hinders both sides from flourishing, when equality is obviously a better solution.

Angel Witney

@angelxwitney